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Geek feminism
June 26, 2009 4:21 PM   Subscribe

...the Platonic nerd is invariably male. The stereotype is flexible to incorporate women and girls on an individual basis, but few people conjure up the image of a woman when they think about nerds.” Feminist blog Pandagon reviews two books about nerdiness and geekery, Jason Tocci addresses the question of why female involvement in geek culture seems to call for a special explanation, and two feminist geeks set out in search of an egalitarian future.
posted by velvet winter (142 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
To this, I'd like to add The Park Bench, which is -- I'll admit -- rather fluffier in content. But it's another blog targeted towards female geeks and nerds. They do occasionally get into gender inequity and "why do people think it's weird that girls can be geeks too"; but, the bulk of it is admittedly about 30 Rock and Neil Gaiman and Doctor Who and posting news of new Firefly/Tina Fey/Ira Glass/BSG related goings-on.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:28 PM on June 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


"Platonic nerd"?

I love it.
posted by Decimask at 4:31 PM on June 26, 2009


"Platonic nerd"?

I love it.


Why not? The ideal nerd lives in their parents' basement perceiving the world through the shadows on their screen.


Right Metafilter?
posted by Elmore at 4:35 PM on June 26, 2009 [7 favorites]


Platonic Nerd = Allegory of the Bat Cave
posted by joe lisboa at 4:36 PM on June 26, 2009 [35 favorites]


I agree with her assessment of the individual basis, but does that include the popular stereotype of a group of nerds always containing the token girl???
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 4:37 PM on June 26, 2009


I dunno, I always figured it was because the essence of the nerd stereotype is being interested in things more than people, to the point that you are bad at interacting with people, i.e., oblivious to their emotions and interests, blunt to the point of cruelty. The stereotypical woman is supposed to be interested in people to the point of vapidity, and bad at dealing with things, particularly mechanical things. The two circles do not overlap, and the idea of a girl nerd falls into the blank space between them.
posted by Diablevert at 4:44 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Geek and nerd are two different things, says the nerd.
posted by queensissy at 4:45 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thus female geeks do routinely run into a sense that they aren’t even believed to be real, which puts an incredible burden on them just to assert themselves in the spaces that they thought would be most welcoming to them.

THIS. Good God, THIS. It's one thing to decide it's not worth it to even try to get along with the people who routinely tortured you as a 12 year old, but when you have to overcome this stupid "girls aren't gamers" "girls don't know about computers" crap, it's a wonder that any of us emerge from high school or college with geeky or nerdy credentials intact.
posted by Medieval Maven at 4:47 PM on June 26, 2009 [6 favorites]


Every female nerd has a posse of 5 to 10 guys. At least this is how it works in Comp Eng programs.
posted by captaincrouton at 4:49 PM on June 26, 2009 [9 favorites]


Look, there is no need to over complicate the issue. Any time a female gets involved in a male dominated area there are going to be uncomfortable situations.

I've seen girls being driven out of guilds in WoW by assholes who can't just shut up and play without harassing, and I was in a guild that was #1 in progression on the server with a female raid leader doing a lot of the work.

WoW is a social activity, usually done after work to wind down and in many cases (Well, mine anyway) while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Signing on a Ventrilo server with 20 guys is kind of like going into a bar while it is a sausage fest. Even if 18 people behave themselves there will be at least two insufferable assholes.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:50 PM on June 26, 2009


If by "posse" you mean a bunch of guys, about half of whom are your friends that you'd like to date, and the other half are the guys that want to date you but it's awkward as hell to really firmly turn them down, then yeah.
posted by Medieval Maven at 4:51 PM on June 26, 2009 [4 favorites]


Any time a female gets involved in a male dominated area there are going to be uncomfortable situations.

You mean any time we want to do anything that's not raising the kids, doing the laundry, or reading Jane Austen, which is an approved activity for smart women? That's a cop out. By saying "shit happens" you're basically absolving yourself and anyone else of responsibility for their personal actions or lack thereof in the situations you describe.
posted by Medieval Maven at 4:54 PM on June 26, 2009 [15 favorites]


Veering somewhat off into borderline academia, I've noted that the last two technical presentation videos I've watched and really enjoyed were by female presenters: Allison Randal and the Parrot VM and Fabíola Greve's tech talk on consensus networks. I wouldn't be surprised if Allison was the only female in the room at the JVM summit and speaking to a somewhat hostile audience to start with (really perl is about as dissimilar to java as you can get) but she knocked it so far out of the park people in the next zipcode complained about the sonic boom.
posted by Skorgu at 4:54 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


That's a cop out. By saying "shit happens" you're basically absolving yourself and anyone else of responsibility for their personal actions or lack thereof in the situations you describe.

No, I'm saying it happens, but thanks for the mind reading session.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:59 PM on June 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


Because some guys are assholes we should just expect it? NO. It should be societally expected that men learn how to fucking behave. And, if your attitude is as above, that we should just expect the shitty way that we're treated and let it roll off like it's okay rather than demanding something better, then yes, you are absolving yourself and everyone else of any responsibility to behave any better.
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:02 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Bah, I'm so tired of hearing about male nerd/geek culture.

I would love to see a movie/TV show/comic strictly about female nerds or geeks.
posted by thisperon at 5:08 PM on June 26, 2009 [4 favorites]


Medieval Maven, the point is that there's an adjustment period. The structures, incentives, institutions, social expectations are skewed. They need to change when the activity becomes more equitable. It's about the general pattern then, not just about technology. You're attacking a strawman.
posted by Non Prosequitur at 5:11 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Because some guys are assholes we should just expect it? NO. It should be societally expected that men learn how to fucking behave. And, if your attitude is as above, that we should just expect the shitty way that we're treated and let it roll off like it's okay rather than demanding something better, then yes, you are absolving yourself and everyone else of any responsibility to behave any better.

I have not stated or implied this. I described my experience and attempted explanation for why I think it happens. If you are looking for someone to have a flame war with please search somewhere else.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:11 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


And by "adjustment period" I don't mean it doesn't matter while a change is happening. It matters. That's why things need to change.
posted by Non Prosequitur at 5:17 PM on June 26, 2009


I would love to see a movie/TV show/comic strictly about female nerds or geeks.
What's interesting is that the "whiz kid" character in a show or movie is now invariably female. That is, if the show isn't about tech geekery, but they need the main characters to go to some computer expert for some reason, that person will be female and usually youngish. Twenty years ago, of course, that character was always male; I can't think of any male examples from the last five years.
posted by hattifattener at 5:17 PM on June 26, 2009


THIS. Good God, THIS.

What the hell do those sentences even mean? Do they mean "I agree with this" or "I think this should be highlighted?" If so, then why not just type that? I thought this awful 'this' plague had died out.
posted by delmoi at 5:23 PM on June 26, 2009


What's interesting is that the "whiz kid" character in a show or movie is now invariably female. That is, if the show isn't about tech geekery, but they need the main characters to go to some computer expert for some reason, that person will be female and usually youngish. Twenty years ago, of course, that character was always male; I can't think of any male examples from the last five years.

Yeah, and that "whiz kid" is usually super boring, along with inexplicably hot and well put-together.

Not saying that doesn't happen, but geez.
posted by thisperon at 5:28 PM on June 26, 2009


I think that the most important point here is that it all revolves around sex. Being sexually desirable is something that, in the stereotypical sense, is at odds with geekiness, and there is this sense that if you are a woman you are a priori desired objects -- not that that is actually the case.

Truth be told, I'm so fucking tired of geek chic. Can't people self-identify as something else besides what they were in your white middle-class adolescence?
posted by Weebot at 5:29 PM on June 26, 2009 [7 favorites]


the point is that there's an adjustment period. The structures, incentives, institutions, social expectations are skewed. They need to change when the activity becomes more equitable. It's about the general pattern then, not just about technology.

Yeah, except I started gaming tabletop in 1985 and it's 20+ years on and I still hear the same sexist bs in gaming spaces (tabletop and online) that I heard when I started. I'm not weighing in on what any single guy is thinking, but geeky women get tired of "it happens". Harassment is not a passive voice issue.

Adding to the resources: The Iris Gaming Network and Cerise Magazine, both of which are mostly for video gamers. Cerise has a great article on being reluctant to call yourself a gamer in its current issue.
posted by immlass at 5:31 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


When I was young and tender, I thought I was lucky to be a nerd girl attracted to nerd guys, because nerd guys would understand me, and were bound to be kinder to girls than the lunkheads elsewhere, because they were just so smart. This turns out not to be true. Ask Carl Sagan's ex-wives.

I was lucky enough to go to a women's college with plenty of geeks. I became so immersed in the female geek mindset that I sometimes forget that other people don't have the highly developed sense of female geek stereotypes that I do. Tucked-in anime T-shirts, nasal voice with lots of anecdotes from AV club, LiveJournal packed with slash fiction, constant rejoinders such as "The stupid, it burns . . ." My people!
posted by Countess Elena at 5:33 PM on June 26, 2009 [4 favorites]


Truth be told, I'm so fucking tired of geek chic. Can't people self-identify as something else besides what they were in your white middle-class adolescence?

Ugh, why is it assumed that every person who lives an ordinary, middle class or "privileged" life is white? I'm so sick people saying "white this" "white that" when really they are only talking about ordinary, main-stream society.

I mean god who ever heard of like an Asian nerd right? Totally unheard of (for example).

--

Other then that, I kind of agree. I also think it's a little silly to hang out with a bunch of people who's defining characteristic is social ineptitude and then complain about a lack of social grace.
posted by delmoi at 5:40 PM on June 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


This is something that resonates powerfully with me, since my field (mathematics) is an extremely geeky / nerdy one. I've seen plenty of examples of men behaving badly towards women in mathematics, and although some of it probably does derive from a viewpoint regarding sexual desirability, I don't think that's all of it. There's often also a strong aspect of macho aggression in male nerdiness, which is odd because one doesn't always associate "nerd" with "macho dude."

If you've been around CS / physics / math nerds, you've invariably seen the games of one-upsmanship and "I know more theorems than you"-type posturing, and for whatever reason this posturing is almost always gendered. It's a locker-room mentality, with mental abilities swapped for physical prowess; and it can be very toxic to women. I don't know what the solution is, but I do know it can be a problem for women who want to enter the field.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 5:42 PM on June 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


Yeah, except I started gaming tabletop in 1985 and it's 20+ years on and I still hear the same sexist bs in gaming spaces (tabletop and online) that I heard when I started.

I guess I'm a bit lost on what we're talking about here. People thinking you're cute and expressing it in a creepy way whereas in other social fields they'd keep it to themselves? People saying "chicks can't play XYZ"? Or less blatant?
posted by Non Prosequitur at 5:47 PM on June 26, 2009


The other thing that I think makes things uncomfortable for women in "geeky" arenas is sexual frustration that turns into misogyny after a while. These guys hate the fact women have so much power over them, and are so confusing and so on. Eventually they just start to just really dislike women.
posted by delmoi at 5:50 PM on June 26, 2009


The meaning of "geek" and "nerd" are not particularly well-defined. There are meanings clustered around some niche cultural interests, meanings around some academic and intellectual interests, and meanings clustered around a general intensity and indifference to the social world (think "geeking out vs. vegging out"). We should consider the possibility that the third of these clusters refers to a phenomenon that is inherently related to maleness and femaleness, i.e. that the third sort of geekiness is just more likely to turn up in men -- this is the focus of Simon Baron-Cohen's popular work.
posted by grobstein at 5:59 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


>>> Even if 18 people behave themselves there will be at least two insufferable assholes.

If your local bar (or Ventrillo server) is suffering from a 10-to-1 ratio of nice guys to asshats, the simple solution is to call out the asshats on their asshat-ery. And if they don't curtail their nonsense, kick them out. Ban them. Sure, you could excuse them, say they're just that way and you've known them since junior high and ... it doesn't matter. Life is too damned short to put up with unnecessary nonsense, particularly when you have a choice in the matter.

In other words, it is not enough to sit there and pat yourself on your nice guy back for being nice. Because really, complacency with persistent asshat-ery in a group setting is just as bad as condoning it. Maybe I'm alone in this, but I believe that the extended responsibility of civil folk is to promote that civility where possible. And yes, that includes telling misogynous jerks to shut the hell up.
posted by grabbingsand at 6:02 PM on June 26, 2009 [6 favorites]


which is odd because one doesn't always associate "nerd" with "macho dude."

One should. The metrics for "macho" (and hence the analogies for dick size) differ of course but the social interaction is largely the same.
posted by Skorgu at 6:05 PM on June 26, 2009


Truth be told, I'm so fucking tired of geek chic. Can't people self-identify as something else besides what they were in your white middle-class adolescence?

I'm a computer programmer working for a scientist who does build electronics stuff and does math problems for fun. Oh and I really love it when people ask me for help with their physics homework. What do you think I should self identify as?

Unless you mean people who just wear horn-rimmed glasses. I have contacts and in any case I rarely see anyone dressed as "geek chic" so I'm not really tired of it yet (except maybe in movies).
posted by DU at 6:06 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


bjork
posted by kitchenrat at 6:06 PM on June 26, 2009


PARSING ABIGUITY IN LINE 2

I'm a (computer programmer working for a scientist) who ((builds electronics stuff) and (does math problems) for fun).
posted by DU at 6:08 PM on June 26, 2009 [7 favorites]


I agree with her assessment of the individual basis, but does that include the popular stereotype of a group of nerds always containing the token girl

Do you mean the girl who manages to both sidestep a gauntlet of (lately diminished) gender roles and to tolerate a sometimes tedious male technocracy, an inverse fraternity with all its rites and rankings? Or do you mean the girl that has a preternatural missile-lock on the social instabilities in 11th grade male Nerd vs Girl interaction? The one who plots a campaign of Wagnerian drama that consumes every member of the group, the Gwenevere that sunders your cafeteria table; and then, years later, while you're listening to a dead Elliott Smith and crushing a cigarette out on a picture of lost friends, finds you on Facebook?

Because I think the litmus test is Magic Cards, the older the better. They are wolfsbane to social engineers. They do not know what to do with them. Turn it sideways? What the fuck? I have a better idea, let's stage a neo-Brechtian cosplay.

If they turn red at the edges where she touches them, she is Sídhe.
posted by kid ichorous at 6:23 PM on June 26, 2009 [11 favorites]


If your local bar (or Ventrillo server) is suffering from a 10-to-1 ratio of nice guys to asshats,

I'm pretty sure 10-1 ratio expands over the entire human population, and not just guys either.

As far as bars, that is what the bouncers are for. But with free flowing alcohol there will always be assholes of both genders and no amount of social pressure will help much in changing that. Drunks don't think things through.

WoW guilds have assholes of all types, it's a loose club of usually 25 or more people that is diverse in culture, age, personality, wealth, and geography. You may hate one asshole and want him gone but he could be the best healer and good friends with a few people. So you can leave but what about your friends still there? You can yell at people but they probably won't listen.

The only solution is to look for a guild with a generally good, tolerant culture or start your own so you can keep the assholes out. Guilds like that tend to be more successful and long lasting so there is that motivation too.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:24 PM on June 26, 2009


There are meanings clustered around some niche cultural interests, meanings around some academic and intellectual interests, and meanings clustered around a general intensity and indifference to the social world...We should consider the possibility that the third of these clusters refers to a phenomenon that is inherently related to maleness and femaleness.

These traits aren't always synonymous, but denying women the "bad" aspects of geekdom -- obsessiveness, social ineptitude -- is too often a patronizing way of denying them the intellectual interests as well. Isn't it great that women are so grounded and balanced? They have better things to do then obsess about model railroads, comic books, computers or whatever.
posted by transona5 at 6:25 PM on June 26, 2009 [6 favorites]


Unless you mean people who just wear horn-rimmed glasses. I have contacts and in any case I rarely see anyone dressed as "geek chic" so I'm not really tired of it yet (except maybe in movies).

I think he's talking about, like, Cosplayers. and people who are generally into "geek culture", and consume geek media and entertainment.

Those two sets overlap a great deal, but at the same time they describe different things.
posted by delmoi at 6:26 PM on June 26, 2009


01100111 01101111 01100100 00101100 00100000 01110011 01100001 01111001 01101001 01101110 01100111 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100001 01110100 00100000 01101111 01101110 01101100 01111001 00100000 01100010 01101111 01111001 01110011 00100000 01100011 01100001 01101110 00100000 01100010 01100101 00100000 01101110 01100101 01110010 01100100 01110011 00100000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01110011 01110101 01100011 01101000 00100000 01100010 01110101 01101100 01101100 01110011 01101000 01101001 01110100 00101110.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 6:43 PM on June 26, 2009 [4 favorites]


Also, from this:

The temperatures are going up (in Austin, they’re finally reaching close to 100)

Actually, it's a hundred and fuck you outside right now.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 6:45 PM on June 26, 2009 [6 favorites]


Curse you social media!

DU: You shouldn't take that as a jab against you. More against things like John Hodgeman's Obama Roast, where geekiness is translated into something like a smug self-regard and air of intellectual superiority. Something along the sentiment of "in 20 years I going to be making 100 times more money than you".

That's the thing that these articles try to highlight; a lot of what constitutes "geek culture" is actually quite parochial in detrimental ways.
posted by Weebot at 7:10 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you've been around CS / physics / math nerds, you've invariably seen the games of one-upsmanship and "I know more theorems than you"-type posturing, and for whatever reason this posturing is almost always gendered. It's a locker-room mentality, with mental abilities swapped for physical prowess; and it can be very toxic to women.

As an adult male mathematician who, at 17, was probably more like this than I'd care to admit, and who now, twenty years later, has to deal with these guys in the classroom, let me just say: Yes. This.
posted by escabeche at 7:17 PM on June 26, 2009


Depends on your definition of nerd, I guess. I belonged to Star Trek fandom a good while ago, and though there was certainly a high percentage of males most of the people I hung out with then were other women. And there were a lot of women, and we weren't there to gain the approval of the males, which I suppose carried its own quota of misandry.

And I'm a fencer now, which is another kind of nerd, and though my weapon (sabre) is also more often fenced by males, at practice and at tournaments I am likely to be hanging out with pretty much anyone of any age (I'm in my late 50's). Maybe the study was just looking at stereotypically male nerddoms? IOW, female nerds are not unusual for their gender, but unusual for the nerd subcultures that are stereotypically male, like gamers.

I always thought geeks were people who bit the heads off chickens.
posted by Peach at 7:37 PM on June 26, 2009


Thanks, velvet winter, those are some good links. As someone in the Venn diagram overlap of "women" and "geek" lemme say; no, we don't really like geek stuff in a "different" way than the boys do. If I have seen every episode of Next Generation umpteen times (um, for example) then it was because I found watching it pleasurable, just as a male fan would. Possibly Counselor Troi's asymmetricallly low necklines were not as exciting to me as to many of them. To each his own. But obsessiveness, social awkwardness, regrettable clothes choices, the mockery of others; girl geeks know these things well. We got beat up less, I suppose, but if you've ever been the target of full-on teenage girl maliciousness, you know there are other ways to get your ass kicked.

*What* pieces of geek culture girls enjoy can definitely be affected by how macho-coded it is, though, or how obnoxious (cough, GAMERS, cough) the participants tend to be.
posted by emjaybee at 7:40 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


There were as many females as males in my math grad courses. In every way they bucked the expected demographics, possibly because they selected for people who were not seeking jobs but diplomas. Okay, so the average class size was about eight or so.
posted by kid ichorous at 7:41 PM on June 26, 2009


When I was in aerospace engineering there was exactly one woman in a lecture seminar of approx. 150 men. She was a tall redhead. When she entered the room it was like iron filings lining up around a monopole. It was intensely uncomfortable for everyone involved, her most of all I'm sure.
posted by ook at 8:08 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]



Yeah, except I started gaming tabletop in 1985 and it's 20+ years on and I still hear the same sexist bs in gaming spaces (tabletop and online) that I heard when I started.


I don't want to discount your experience, and I'm male so maybe I just have no fucking clue what I'm talking about, but if I'm going to game with other people, it's going to be with friends. And friends don't behave in a manner that makes you uncomfortable or at least they certainly don't keep doing it if you mention that it bothers you.
posted by juv3nal at 8:09 PM on June 26, 2009


Socially retarded cat is socially retarded.
posted by klangklangston at 8:15 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Good links in here, thanks.
posted by harriet vane at 8:17 PM on June 26, 2009


It's true that, in many mathematics grad programs, that there is gender parity. But what's also true -- and this is the part that needs to be fixed, and I don't quite know how -- is that there is much more attrition in females than in males in (1) finishing the Ph.D. and (2) getting a tenure-track position. Less than 10% of tenured or tenure-track faculty in mathematics at tier I institutions are female, which is a horrific statistic.

One thing that's mentioned in one of the articles above that hasn't been touched on yet is just how fucking HARD it is to be a tenure-track woman who also wants a child. Almost every single academic I know who has a child is (a) male and (b) had a stay-at-home wife while their children were growing up. Even if you're a woman whose significant other is willing to stay at home and take care of the child (or, alternatively, there's daycare), the stress of pregnancy, and post-partum effects, often put women at a nasty disadvantage compared to their other tenure-track peers. I personally know two extraordinarily talented female mathematicians who faced this: One dropped out of grad school to have a child, and the other one turned down a postdoc at MIT to get a position nearer to her parents, who could help her take care of her children. Until academia can find a way to be hospitable to women in this situation, we will NOT reach gender parity.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 8:53 PM on June 26, 2009 [9 favorites]


These traits aren't always synonymous, but denying women the "bad" aspects of geekdom -- obsessiveness, social ineptitude -- is too often a patronizing way of denying them the intellectual interests as well. Isn't it great that women are so grounded and balanced? They have better things to do then obsess about model railroads, comic books, computers or whatever.

Oh my Lord, yes. I (female nerd and proto-mathematician) have always hated the idea that it's OK to say that women are bad at {video games, building stuff, the sciences, etc.} because they're more empathetic or something. It's like people have this idea that its not sexism because they're paying me some sort of bizarre compliment: "Hey, you're bound to suck at technical stuff, but it's OK because you have great social skills! Who wouldn't want that?" Note: I do not actually have great social skills.

If you've been around CS / physics / math nerds, you've invariably seen the games of one-upsmanship and "I know more theorems than you"-type posturing, and for whatever reason this posturing is almost always gendered. It's a locker-room mentality, with mental abilities swapped for physical prowess; and it can be very toxic to women. I don't know what the solution is, but I do know it can be a problem for women who want to enter the field.

I have encountered very little of this since I left high school, actually, and when I was in high school, I was definitely one of the worst offenders. I'm fortunate in that the math department at my school, though overwhelmingly male, is pretty relaxed in this respect, but of course I know exactly what you're talking about; it's impossible not to.

My own theory as to why this strutting and preening is usually male is that women's reputations tend to suffer more from coming off the worse in one of these altercations. Since women are such a novelty in technical fields, there tend to be much higher expectations for them, and small slipups can get magnified in the eyes of their less-enlightened peers or superiors. In that case, avoiding publicly losing face is simple self-preservation, if nothing else. Those women who do try to be cock-of-the-walk risk being labeled as stupid or incompetent.

I sure don't know how to fix the problem, but at least within mathematics, a good place to start might be to get rid of competitions like the Math Olympiad and the Putnam. Those sorts of timed, individual competition do nothing but promote intellectual dick measuring, and so ultimately drive away people who wish to avoid that kind of posturing (for any reason).
posted by Commander Rachek at 8:55 PM on June 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


Frankly, if you can't handle Math Olympiad, you don't deserve to be called "nerd." And if you can't handle the constant struggle to outnerd the rest, then you are pathetic. If you can't hang, its not because you're held up to higher standards, if because you suck. Leave.
posted by wayofthedodo at 9:35 PM on June 26, 2009


When I was young and tender, I thought I was lucky to be a nerd girl attracted to nerd guys, because nerd guys would understand me, and were bound to be kinder to girls than the lunkheads elsewhere, because they were just so smart.

I, too, have been attracted to fellow nerds as far back as I can remember.

As a kid, I thought this nerd affinity would be my ticket into a world where I could just be myself - and maybe, just maybe, eventually date a geek boy who didn't mind it when I beat him at Space Invaders, would gladly spend Friday nights in the library with me, and would become completely convinced that a geek girl like me was a much better match for him than that cheerleader he'd been after.

I had, shall we say, very limited success. A few scenes from my past:

1976: Fourth grade. Enormous crush on a nerd boy in my class. He and I both love math and are the fastest kids in the class at completing our timed multiplication tables. Eventually he stops hanging out with me because I sometimes beat him in the math drills. I am crushed.

1984: High school. Computer Club meeting. (All five of us attend, four guys and me). I am VP. Our guest speaker arrives. I greet him and introduce myself. He tells me to "smile!" A few minutes later, he asks the boys what projects they've been working on lately.

1992: My first D&D game. The guy sitting next to me leans over and asks if my character wears chainmail underwear. Every time I inch away from him ever so slightly, he inches closer again. I grow increasingly uncomfortable. A few minutes later, after I ask him politely to cut it out, he says with mock indignation, "Quit yer squawkin', I'm just stalkin'." Everyone chuckles. Soon afterward, I stop playing D&D.

1995: My boyfriend makes a big deal of the fact that he's attracted to me because of my mind. He geeks out with me over Star Trek, board games, libraries, Commodore 64 games, philosophy, microbiology, calculus, you name it. Glorious geek girl bliss. Then, over time, I realize that - geek camaraderie notwithstanding - somehow I always seem to end up making coffee, doing all the cleaning, and getting the groceries while he plays games. We discuss it. Nothing changes. We break up.

1996: Feeling frisky (and lonely). Browsing alt.sex.wanted on Usenet on a Saturday night, wondering anew why it's always so hard for me to find a date if there really are so many geek guys out there who want to get laid. On a whim, I compose a reply to a post titled "Are there ANY GIRLS on this thing!!!!!!!!" I explain carefully that there are, in fact, women like me out there who are interested in having sex with fellow geeks...but that they're sometimes a little skittish until they know they'll be safe with you and that you aren't expecting them to look like supermodels, so a slightly more subtle approach might work better. A few hours later I get private e-mail with one line asking about my age, hair color and bra size.

1998: Web design software training program. My first Photoshop class. The instructor thinks it's a hoot to refer to the "hand" icon as "the Packwood tool." The other students laugh every time. I do not.

1999: Linux user group meeting. I walk in, excited because I have just finished reading Eric Raymond's The Cathedral and the Bazaar. Quickly I become hyper-aware of the fact that I'm the only woman there. I spend an hour fidgeting awkwardly and trying to think of something to say. It has to be the perfect mixture of witty, thought-provoking, technically savvy, and impressive; otherwise, I fear, these guys won't take me seriously. I end up commenting on the fact that there aren't many women there. Everyone laughs. I decide to stick to Linux forums, where I can hide behind a non-gendered username.

2009: It's Friday night. I'm on Metafilter, making a post about geek feminists.
posted by velvet winter at 9:49 PM on June 26, 2009 [51 favorites]


(warning: anecdote)

I've been working with the same set of 4 male programmers for 3 years now. I didn't have a problem with any of them until two non-programmer girls joined the team about a year ago. So now the three guys spend a good amount of social time at work (as well as work related) talking to them and generally paying them attention, while I don't (I'm far less social, and I don't work on any joint projects with them). Apparently I've been branded as "out there" and "weird" because I don't talk to anyone on my team much, and to them at all. This wasn't a problem at all until the two girls showed up. Funny the way it is...
posted by SirOmega at 9:49 PM on June 26, 2009


"Frankly, if you can't handle Math Olympiad, you don't deserve to be called "nerd." And if you can't handle the constant struggle to outnerd the rest, then you are pathetic. If you can't hang, its not because you're held up to higher standards, if because you suck. Leave."

Really?

Not sure if this is sarcastic or not. If it is, bravo I guess? If not, it's a pretty weird sentiment. One of the neat things about the sciences is that there are some pretty objective measures of if one can, er, hang or not. They vary from discipline to discipline, of course, but they're all pretty good at making a mockery of arbitrary, standardized metrics like, er, an elementary school math competition. "Can you handle a hostile social atmosphere" is not a question that any scientist, engineer (or anyone, really) should ever have to answer.
posted by kavasa at 10:14 PM on June 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


Rachek, surely they can keep that sort of thing for those who excel at the timed grinds. And keep it out of the classroom.

But I agree that there should be more room for mathematicians who are less instant conjurers than genuinely creative. Gauss was the sort of prodigy a mensa seismograph could detect. Think at gunpoint! produce or perish! finds that sort of scary talent. But maybe not a Cantor or Mandelbrot? They took years to flash certain insights that seem trivial only now that they're in our vernacular, and they did it, I think, by sticking to a certain personal compass. They resisted criticism, but also the allure of new discoveries made elsewhere in mathematics. The second part might be the harder temptation, but either way: they had guidance.

Some students do not have guidance. I was one. They encounter resistance in one class or another and wonder if they are bad at math. Bad at math is the same sort of disorienting as bad at words. How? With what formalisms? In what dialect? In both cases, we're talking about command of language, and language is mostly too deep for just good and bad.

Math is so deep that there's no way to get the lay of the land at first. Everything is thrown at you. I think the first chapter of Lang's algebra textbook offered a curveball example from topology (which most of us hadn't taken) to introduce the simple idea of an algebraic group. Pointless. It's a fevered immersion in a dozen dialects at once, and the impression is that they must be taken as a unitary whole, rather than explored for a particular place of comfort or curiosity.

It would be nice if departments could make it clear to students that even if one area didn't fit them, another might. That they might not suck at math. They might suck at topology. There are amazing number theorists or applied mathematicians who didn't thrive anywhere else; there are writers who can annex, command genre after genre and yet remain incapable of a sincere thank-you speech. They don't need to be shown the door, but a door.

I get that the idea of 'math olympics' does seem to cast this very yea-or-nay verdict, and I see how that adds to the problem - at least, in my understanding of the problem. But getting rid of those events doesn't produce guidance where none existed. I'm not sure how many courses I blundered through or how long it took until I realized that specialization was not only inevitable but possible.
posted by kid ichorous at 10:39 PM on June 26, 2009 [9 favorites]


Hey, that blog EmpressCalipygos linked to is really cool. And it led to an interview with David Tennant, which is always good. Thanks!
posted by Ms. Saint at 10:49 PM on June 26, 2009


if you can't handle Math Olympiad

These words can't handle each other. Math, manthano is an improvised dialogue, unpredictable, without a known end; Olympiad is a ritual, a pattern and a trance of footsteps and circles in the dirt. Olympiad crosses a line somewhere and ends. Manthano, uh, graphs lines.

A true Math Olympiad must involve bareback wrestling a transcendental number, or buggering a prime in the back room, or sitting under a cross with a group of Roman soldiers, rolling dice made of platonic solids until you hit a natural eighteen... wait, I think we can hang!
posted by kid ichorous at 10:55 PM on June 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


What geek culture?
posted by phrontist at 11:05 PM on June 26, 2009


I'm nerdy, from several generations of female nerd. My aunts were early computer programmers and collected clothed female D&D minis (a difficult task in itself) and my parents met through the SCA. My grandparents were mensa members with all the painful self absorbed obsession with brains that involves. As a child I latched onto gaming, as a teenager, I was diagnosed with Aspergers. Once upon a time I wore enough badges of eccentricity (including ugly glasses) that even as a female I never had my nerd cred questioned. I was the GM, the centre of undeserved crushes (which made me vaguely uncomfortable), a hopeless brain, and so on. I was certainly female before I was a nerd, in the eyes of my male peers, but I was as much locked into a role as a virginal older sister as I was potential dating material, even if I couldn’t be one of the guys.

Sometime after high school I cleaned up, got contacts, learned to do hair and makeup and gave up online gaming as a dangerous addiction. Now I'm stuck in a weird zone of psuedo-geek. I speak the language. I get the RPG jokes, and I still like to look at games in the store and monolog about Monty Python and whatever socially inappropriate science crap I’ve been reading. But I pass as normal and now I get “I never would have taken you as a gamer!” or shock and amazement I think Portal is an adorable game. To make matters worse I picked a soft, social major, political science, and I constantly get bombarded with anti-art student ranting, and adults who should know better telling me that non-science or engineering student just aren’t smart, and are the fluffy little butterflies that flit into a career as wives or cardboard box hovels. It seems like in embracing the classic trappings of femininity, including the appearance and empathy oriented field of studies somehow stripped me of my right to be a geek and any respect for my modest but serviceable brain.

With this result in mind, where I’m instantly treated as much dumber since I don’t dress like a geek, I’ve stopped being surprised at the number of guys who’ve gotten to know me and then crowed with delight they never met a smart woman before with the same delighted incredulity they greeted my interest in the Halflife franchise. I’m not even the brainiest woman I know by a long shot, but if contacts and ironing is all it takes to dismiss me, who had to overcome a genuine socialization disorder to get where I did, what about all those smart neurotypical women who didn’t flirt with external geek dress or get stuck their due to their own social incompetence?
posted by Phalene at 12:13 AM on June 27, 2009 [18 favorites]


^there, not their, no more posting at midnight.
posted by Phalene at 12:14 AM on June 27, 2009


"When I was young and tender...."

When you were young and charming, you practised baby-farming, a many years ago?
posted by orthogonality at 1:11 AM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I got my first kiss at a sci-fi convention (and yes, she was conventionally attractive in addition to being nerdy).

Nerdy girls are hot because nerds tend to be competent (at something, whether math or CS or engineering, or in lesser ways, like memorizing Star Trek episodes or "Magic the Gathering" cards), and competence is hot. Few things are hotter than a woman who knows some subject area well.
posted by orthogonality at 1:20 AM on June 27, 2009


Aw, Phalene, and velvet winter, you make me sad.

I have no advice, but the guy I ended up with is a geek from a different part of the humanities (music) who was raised by a strong smart mama not to fear other smart women. Hoping there's someone similarly qualified out there for ya...

I have heard chemistry.com is a good site for the smart singles, but can't speak firsthand about it.

/matchmaker
posted by emjaybee at 1:48 AM on June 27, 2009


[alternate anecdote]

comparing notes last night on "fighting to be true to one self through adolescence etc" with french gay hairdresser (who jokes about being a stereotype) but was married and in the navy! how he fought to be who he was/is

and myself as an indian woman who fought the same essential fight to go to engineering school (you're wasting money on her, she's only gonna get married etc), to get a job outside the home, and all the rest of it

Its all so much a matter of perspective isn't it?

Rather than the fight to be "one" or "the other"... it all boils down to being true to who you are and being comfortable with it, as Phalene's evocative story shows. People find it easier to stereotype and pigeonhole than to accept that we are all multifaceted complex human beings not demographic lifestyles
posted by infini at 2:43 AM on June 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


It would be nice if departments could make it clear to students that even if one area didn't fit them, another might.

This is a good point, and it enters an area that I think is rather vague; I'll try approaching it in a roundabout way. One of my good friends from grad school told me that she felt as though the mathematics environment was "male," and by that she meant not nurturing, not supportive. Her contention was that the environment in math grad school (and probably in other grad departments too) subtly encourages men by presenting grad students with an environment where they don't get much positive feedback and a lot of negative feedback, which is something that men are more socialized to tolerate than women.

I'm not entirely sure I agree with this sentiment -- is it really the case that women are socialized that way? I don't know -- but there's definitely something to the complaint. And it's absolutely true one of the ways grad school can fail students is to fail to mention the breadth of math, that if you don't like algebraic geometry then you can try ergodic theory or applied math or analysis (echhh), etc. Switching advisors is not frequently done, so students often find themselves caught in a mire of thesis topics they despise.

Also, algebraic groups are rad -- that's my field of research!
posted by Frobenius Twist at 7:24 AM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Hey guys what's Metafilter doing tonight?
Dunno let me see...
Oh it's too busy to go out.
Watching a movie?
No, justifying Western feminism's attempts to destroy the male identity by co-opting anything they do."

It's like a little child that sees another kid with their own toy and wants to take it.
posted by Redgrendel2001 at 7:26 AM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I dunno, I always figured it was because the essence of the nerd stereotype is being interested in things more than people, to the point that you are bad at interacting with people, i.e., oblivious to their emotions and interests, blunt to the point of cruelty.

I don't know about the cruelty part, but the rest of that description reminds me of Asperger's.
posted by mecran01 at 7:31 AM on June 27, 2009


No, justifying Western feminism's attempts to destroy the male identity by co-opting anything they do."

It's like a little child that sees another kid with their own toy and wants to take it.


Aw, jeez, you caught me. Guess I'll leave gaming and go back to fixing my hair, reading Sophie Kinsella books, rolling my eyes tolerantly at your adorable nerd antics, and picking up after you.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:35 AM on June 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Redgrendel2001, for what it's worth, you're welcome to co-opt female identity. I'm sure there are people who can give you tips.
posted by Non Prosequitur at 7:40 AM on June 27, 2009


[few commentes removed - if you want to insult a good portion of the people on this site or in this thread, please go to MetaTalk and don't just threadshit here, thank you]
posted by jessamyn at 7:57 AM on June 27, 2009


One of my good friends from grad school told me that she felt as though the mathematics environment was "male," and by that she meant not nurturing, not supportive.

But that may just be true from her perspective -- the male grad students could be experiencing a much more supportive environment.

One of my "favorite" grad school experiences: I was teaching a summer class for high schoolers, and part of it was from a popular textbook. I needed the solution manual to give to my undergrad assistants, so I asked one of the professors if he had a copy. He told me -- I still can't believe this -- that I might try working out the solutions for myself.
posted by transona5 at 8:03 AM on June 27, 2009


Did this professor give the solution manual to any men?
posted by Redgrendel2001 at 8:14 AM on June 27, 2009


It's like a little child that sees another kid with their own toy and wants to take it.

This proves the point more perfectly than almost any argument I could make: There is a nontrivial subset of men who genuinely believe (1) that traditionally male fields belong to them, regardless of the skill of those "interloping" females; and that (2) that allowing women into their field is equivalent to stealing the field from them. In the face of this mentality, is it any surprise that women have yet to make serious inroads into many traditionally male fields? It's still kind of jaw-dropping to me to see this form of misogyny in action.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 8:29 AM on June 27, 2009 [12 favorites]


If it's just a question of do female geeks and nerds exist, than they just have to visit any of a dozen fan-centric conventions advertised on Livejournal for media like Harry Potter, Supernatural, General Slash, and Star Trek.

If it's a question of why the existence of female geeks and nerds needs to be pointed out to be noticed then you just have to watch a man stand in front of an open fridge calling out, "Where's the butter," while it sits on the shelf right in front of him.

So explains a woman who has collected comic books for years, stocks her bathroom with graphic novels, and drinks from a Justice League coffee mug whose husband blinked at her Super Girl costume and said, "Uh, you like Superman?"
posted by FunkyHelix at 8:31 AM on June 27, 2009


No, justifying Western feminism's attempts to destroy the male identity by co-opting anything they do."

It's like a little child that sees another kid with their own toy and wants to take it.


Nah, as Countess put it, it's more that we got relegated to the shitty hair dressing station and the set of old maid cards with wacky animal pictures (and half the cards missing) and the toy kitchen someone already filled with sand, and then if you want to use the toys for something other than their intended purpose (say, hanging it by the hair from a tree as a viking sacrifice to Oden) someone comes up behind you and says you're not very nice, so why can't you look at this over idealized pretty picture book and be like her?

And then you pipe up that somehow doing boy things is what defines you as a boy, as if the fact that you had a sausage in your pants meant that not only was brushing Barbie's Disembodied Head Hairdressing Station (AKA the vanquished mighty warrior Hrothgar) loaded with cooties but touching that toy sword or holding it aloft spread the creeping female disease. Because somehow you stopped beng a boy if the non-sausage bearing ones were permitted to do what you did.

Look, I have the complete DNA of a woman and no problem with this. I am, by legal definition, female. Anything I do is being done by a woman. I can't make you stop being male unless you actively seek a legal change to your birth certificate. And talking about your exclusive toys based on gender is stupid. It's also pretty bigoted, since if you replaced race for gender, what you said would be the equivilant of "The dark brown people can't be classical violinists and the paler people can't do hip hop dancing because otherwise they're stealing from each other, and somehow stop being brown or a sort of pinkish taupe with dark moles."
posted by Phalene at 8:31 AM on June 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


I guess I'm a bit lost on what we're talking about here. People thinking you're cute and expressing it in a creepy way whereas in other social fields they'd keep it to themselves? People saying "chicks can't play XYZ"? Or less blatant?

All of that and more, including outright attempts to drive women out of the games. For me, in the 80s, it was things like rape jokes (ha ha, which way would it be better to rape immlass's character, holding her down myself or summoning demons to do it), but I don't game with those people any more. As someone said upthread, I game with my friends, and I have a better class of friends who game than I did in those days. But I do avoid the big online spaces dedicated to gaming, like rpg.net, because they're still full of rpgs as boys' night out, and how dare girls say anything about T&A art, etc. Women I know and trust who do big MMORPGs tell me the scene is the same in a lot of those places, and that's been a factor in my lack of interest in them.

When I come to the table, I'm there to get my roleplaying on, not to service male geeks, date them, or harsh their squee (unless their squee comes from making me miserable). I've never understood why some geek guys are so hostile to this.
posted by immlass at 8:38 AM on June 27, 2009


"This proves the point more perfectly than almost any argument I could make: There is a nontrivial subset of men who genuinely believe (1) that traditionally male fields belong to them, regardless of the skill of those "interloping" females; and that (2) that allowing women into their field is equivalent to stealing the field from them. In the face of this mentality, is it any surprise that women have yet to make serious inroads into many traditionally male fields? It's still kind of jaw-dropping to me to see this form of misogyny in action."

The only thing I believe is that men are entitled to be judged by the the same standards. There is a nontrivial majority of American women who believe that they are entitled to anything and everything, regardless of their skill set and whether or not they've done the work. Just like you were entitled to assume I'm some neanderthalic male and pull out the misogyny card.

Oh, and you should be ashamed of yourself for bringing race into this. Affirmative Action in American education was intended to help the underprivileged (which has a strong correlation to race in this country) and instead it's used to pack American Unis with upper class White/Asian women to the point that there are 3 women graduating for every 2 men.

But please, keep deleting my posts and cranking up the volume of the echo chamber. This male, who would be more than comfortable/happy to be a housedad, will sit back and contemplate his venomous sexism.

PS Female nerds are hotter than hot.
posted by Redgrendel2001 at 8:52 AM on June 27, 2009


Affirmative action for men in higher education. I'm not really opposed to the common practice of giving heavy preferences to male applicants; there's some value in having a gender-balanced class.
posted by transona5 at 9:10 AM on June 27, 2009


The only thing I believe is that men are entitled to be judged by the the same standards. There is a nontrivial majority of American women who believe that they are entitled to anything and everything, regardless of their skill set and whether or not they've done the work. Just like you were entitled to assume I'm some neanderthalic male and pull out the misogyny card.

The thing is, that is manifestly not true of a majority of American women, and that you feel comfortable casually asserting that it is makes you look like some misogynistic loon.

The situation is a hell of a lot more complicated and nuanced than you seem to be willing or able to grant, and knowing that you'd like to fuck the exceptions to your bizarre weird majority rule perception of women is not a net win here, so you might want to drop that as well if you're willing to actually take any responsibility for the neanderthalic interpretation you're concerned about.
posted by cortex at 9:14 AM on June 27, 2009 [11 favorites]


The only thing I believe is that men are entitled to be judged by the the same standards.

I'm not sure that this is a dialogue in which either of us will convince the other of anything, since it appears we both have strong feelings on the subject; but I'll just point out that one way in which grad school is, in my opinion, not biased against women is the following: It is, for the most part, a meritocracy. If you are a man or a woman who produces good work then your work will generally be acknowledged. There are a lot of serious patriarchal issues, many of which I've touched on already, but in my opinion this isn't one of them. For example, at my school, qualifying exams were done anonymously: We used made-up names and only the department secretaries knew which papers belonged to which people. The professors who graded the quals didn't know whose papers they were grading.

Anyhow, the point is that men are judged by exactly the same standards. Lurking behind your comment is the premise that somehow "affirmative action," that old bugbear, has slanted the field towards women. Academics are notorious for being difficult on grad students, and believe me when I say that they do not think in terms of affirmative action when they grade exams or sit on someone's defense committee. If you know any academics, you know that they absolutely would not, say, give a favorable review to a paper that they otherwise would not have, simply based on the gender of the author.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 9:18 AM on June 27, 2009


Frobenius Twist:

The Medical/Law/Graduate School situation really merits a field-specific discussion. In my field things like qual exams were very fair for the reasons you pointed out, but in terms of admissions, defense committees, and publications it's reached the point of absurdity.

And the AA issue isn't a bugbear. The way it's been enacted has had absolutely devastating effects on young American men. How do you convince young men to compete against a class of people who are never allowed to fail?
posted by Redgrendel2001 at 9:42 AM on June 27, 2009


"And the AA issue isn't a bugbear. The way it's been enacted has had absolutely devastating effects on young American men. How do you convince young men to compete against a class of people who are never allowed to fail?"

It always amazes me when people in ostensibly evidence-based fields posit claims that are so clearly counter-factual as to be outside the bounds of shared reality.

At least your Michael Jackson is still alive, black and kicking ass.
posted by klangklangston at 9:58 AM on June 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


Nerdy girls are hot because nerds tend to be competent (at something, whether math or CS or engineering, or in lesser ways, like memorizing Star Trek episodes or "Magic the Gathering" cards), and competence is hot.

Yes, competence is hot. But no, memorizing tv shows and collecting Magic cards does not count as hot competence; if it did, your average high school nerd would be getting laid instead of sitting in the platonic basement.

But jokes aside, I do think that there is something in the idea that the sets of interests and activities that we label "nerd" (meaning, often, high school aged nerd behaviors and interests) are often highly desexualized by societal standards. When sexuality intrudes, it is often quite jarring and dissonant, as in the creepy-guy-at-the-gaming-table examples above.

At an adult level, I think it is quite different, and nerdish stuff for adults is as full of sexuality as any other activity we engage in. And the adult nerd stuff I can think of (eg Renn Faires, say) tends to have a strong, if not majority, female participation, in striking contrast to the desexualized types of nerd activities.
posted by Forktine at 10:03 AM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


It always amazes me when people in ostensibly evidence-based fields posit claims that are so clearly counter-factual as to be outside the bounds of shared reality.

I'm not sure that "counter-factual" goes far enough -- when I hear this sort of claim, I feel like I am encountering someone who truly lives in a separate reality from myself. The experiences described are simply not present in my life, the lives of men in my family, or the lives of the men I work with and know socially.

Yes, men are falling behind in percentages of college graduation. But overall, white men in our society are doing just fine -- we still earn more, go to prison less, and so on, compared to most other demographic groups. There are plenty of groups in crisis out there; young white guys are not one of them.
posted by Forktine at 10:08 AM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200005/war-against-boys

is probably the best, recent summary of how screwed up the issue of gender has become relative to academics.
posted by Redgrendel2001 at 10:12 AM on June 27, 2009


This and this are two much more recent articles (both from the NYTimes; registration or bugmenot may be needed) with some current statistics about boys and educational attainment. It's complex, and it's never a good thing when people aren't doing as well as they could -- but in contrast to many, many centuries of denying women virtually all access to education, is this really such a huge crisis?

It's not that men are being turned away because they have penises -- they are simply not doing as well as the girls are right now, on the whole. (And lest we exagerate, those gender differences are dwarfed by differences between racial groups and between rich and poor.)

And hey, congratulations on being the guy who successfully turns a discussion about women into a discussion about the problems of men! It's pretty much a required moment in any discussion of gender on MeFi, and you are today's winner. Your bronzed penis award will be in the mail forthwith.
posted by Forktine at 10:24 AM on June 27, 2009 [11 favorites]


That second link is a pretty good example of why the NYT has become virtually unreadable. It also focuses on Dickinson as an example which has a longstanding tradition of vigorously recruiting jocks and has probably the best all around athletic program of any small school in the country. So I wasn't surprised to find the entire article is drenched in anti-male stereotypes and just parrots the typical canard of "if boys fail it's due to laziness, but when women fail it's due to some higher power or outside agent". And neither article addresses the data; the Atlantic article does.

I was gunning for the Golden Penis award, but shipping costs due to weight might be problematic. I'll settle for the Bronze.
posted by Redgrendel2001 at 10:52 AM on June 27, 2009


>And hey, congratulations on being the guy who successfully turns a discussion about women into a discussion about the problems of men!

Can you discuss one without the other?

I think what a lot of guys resent when women enter a previously male-only sphere is that their very presence changes things. Things that were previously OK (sex jokes, e.g.) are suddenly offensive.

You might call that an improvement, and you might even be right, but people tend to resist change.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:37 AM on June 27, 2009


"But jokes aside, I do think that there is something in the idea that the sets of interests and activities that we label "nerd" (meaning, often, high school aged nerd behaviors and interests) are often highly desexualized by societal standards. When sexuality intrudes, it is often quite jarring and dissonant, as in the creepy-guy-at-the-gaming-table examples above."

I think there's also the problem of understanding successful sexual strategies—I see a lot of guys (certainly, in my adolescent peer group) assume that the difference between sexually popular guys and them is aggression. They then try to be aggressively sexual toward women and are frustrated further.

On the other hand, I was just talking to my girlfriend about the Violent Femmes' Add It Up, and how it really spoke to me as a teen, that endlessly frustrated sense, but that, well, any Violent Femmes song on a mixtape was probably a pretty sizeable red flag to the girls I thought would get it. I knew that it was anti-social and fairly aggressive, that was kinda the point, but I didn't put it together that this was alienating for women, even women who generally shared these ideas. Hearing it now, it was like, well, duh.
posted by klangklangston at 11:46 AM on June 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yeah ChurchHatesTucker is on the money. There's a sort of tension between "women can do this just like men" and "let's change it to make it better for women". These two angles always come in with minority participation in any culture (e.g. women in high finance, men in women-dominated activities.)

The sex jokes and T&A thing is what confuses me a bit. Women can talk about sex all they want right and curtailing that is puritanical. But men have to become nonsexualized in the presence of women? I mean this more as an honest musing than as a bulwark of excuse. I guess there are gradations and in contexts where women are the minority it's more important to be more careful? I just get confused when half the time it's like "can you believe the judge said he was afraid of hiring women clerks because he uses salty language? as if that's a problem for women" and half the time it's like, "hey there are women here don't use salty language!!"
posted by Non Prosequitur at 12:00 PM on June 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


I suppose the problem isn't about sexuality per se but more about lewdness/cheapness/creepiness vs. more less hostile contexts.
posted by Non Prosequitur at 12:06 PM on June 27, 2009


Female nerds are hotter than hot.

Ah, so we've (sometimes) heard...but there's a lot more to the story than that. Look a little deeper. Listen to the female nerds who are posting here about our experiences of being pigeonholed or socially rejected if we have the audacity to score better than a geek guy on a math test.

As Suzanne Franks (an engineer) puts it in her essay from She's Such A Geek (one of the books reviewed in the Pandagon link above):

"You could be a nerd, or you could be a Playmate, but you couldn't be both. Call it the Nerdonna/Whore complex."

If we are too nurturing, too concerned about positive feedback, too empathetic, too sensitive, spend too much time on our makeup, or are in any way considered too stereotypically female, very often we are implicitly assumed to be Not Very Serious about our work. Not by everyone - I'll grant that things do seem to be changing somewhat, if at a glacial pace - but it happens often enough that we know it's a pattern and not just our misperception.

On the other hand, if we take our geek pursuits too seriously, we are either 1) relegated to some strange tomboy or "unfeminine" realm, or 2) put on a pedestal as an exception to the norm (the trophy nerd chick). Neither are especially conducive to the kind of healthy, balanced, egalitarian dating and relationships many of us would like to have with our fellow nerds.
posted by velvet winter at 12:20 PM on June 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Two things.

(1) Women can talk about sex all they want right and curtailing that is puritanical. But men have to become nonsexualized in the presence of women?

It is a dangerous fallacy to assume that any statement which is true when the word "male" is involved is automatically true when that word is swapped for "female." I'm a bit scared of opening this can of worms, since speaking of it tends to lead to derails, but I'll do it anyhow: It is a fact that women in this country are sexually assaulted much more frequently by men than men are assaulted by women. Women have a lot more to fear when men speak in a sexualized way than when the genders are reversed. We cannot ignore gender imbalances in this country when considering these issues.

(2) "Let's change it to make it better for women" never entails making changes that infringe in any serious way on men's rights. It's not as though attempts to include women in previously underrepresented fields involve expunging men from the field. Rather, it's about creating an environment where women feel comfortable; and if men chafe at this idea, then that's their problem. I'm not about to feel sorry for men who complain that they can't make dick and rape jokes like they used to.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 12:59 PM on June 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


Things that were previously OK (sex jokes, e.g.) are suddenly offensive.

Well, what kinda sex jokes are we talking? Assuming that all the males and females in the group do not have religious hangups about sex jokes in general, there's no reason for this to be true.

However, if sex jokes=rape jokes, you have a problem. If sex jokes=dumb bitch gets humiliated jokes...same thing.

Many men seem to assume that women find sex offensive. Absent religious hangups, we don't. Rape is offensive, women portrayed as targets/objects of violence/universally dumb or vicious is offensive. In the same way that racist jokes are offensive.

It may be that most sex jokes are also misogynistic (I have no data on this one), but women didn't set it up that way, you know.

Like everything in a group, it's about dynamics. If women are a minority in the group, and the sex talk is very escalated and graphic, they may be uncomfortable--depending on how the stories are told. Graphic descriptions of the things some creep wants to do to you is something that most women have had to put up with from random street-harassing assholes. It may not be clear to her whether your jokes/discussion are more of that or not.

And as women in a group get to know the guys in a group better, it usually becomes more open; she knows Guy X may have some issues but is not trying to bully her or harass her, so his occasional comments aren't going to be that big of a deal to her.

And you're right: this complicates things. You have to pay more attention to what you say and how it can be perceived. But, as skills go, it's a useful one to have. If you want to have any relationships with people who aren't exactly like you, then you pretty much have to develop it anyway.
posted by emjaybee at 1:01 PM on June 27, 2009 [9 favorites]


I mean this more as an honest musing than as a bulwark of excuse. I guess there are gradations and in contexts where women are the minority it's more important to be more careful?

Yeah there's a real strange place here for a lot of people I think. Part of this has to do with what I personally perceive as stereotyping [i.e. women don't like the swearing, don't swear around women!] and how that affects the shift from a previously-all-male environment to one that is more mixed gender. That's one thing. However, it also overlaps a lot with the sort of directed sexual commentary which is only, again in my experience, an issue with a small subset of men in mixed-gender environments. Referring to stuff like what immlass was talking about where the fact that you're a woman in a gaming environment means that you sort of have to put up with a certain amount of rape jokes and other sexualized commentary from other people.

This is some people behaving badly. However, this may have been standard operating procedure [i.e. men made rape jokes to each other] before women came on board and were suddenly like "hey that's not quite so funny, please stop" Then, the reaction to that [whether it's "oh yeah okay, sorry about that" or "fuck you, whore"] really determines what sort of environment you feel like you're in, whether it's hostile-feeling to you or not.

Bringing it to a more personal level here. I'm the only female mod here. Generally speaking I feel like I get treated with respect from pretty much everyone. I've done this job for four years. However, I can tell you that when I don't get respect from people, it's usually in the form of email or throwaway comments and those comments are often oddly gender-directed [i.e they don't call me an asshole, they call me a ditzy bitch or a fucking whore or whatever]. As a few examples

- someone idly musing in MeTa that my IM icon (a small headshot) looked like I was ecstatic as if someone were performing oral sex on me
- someone who was angry with me saying they wouldn't take me to MeTa and "spank me there in front of everyone"
- random deleted comments from people about how they would or would not like to have sex with me (sort of jokey, but really?)

Matt's been here twice as long as I have and I don't think he's had a single comment or email from anyone, male or female, talking about having sex, forcible or otherwise, with him. Cortex likewise. For some reason this is a form of directed behavior that doesn't so much seem like it's sexualized as it seems to be dominating or trying to dominate or lashing out as me-as-substitute-for-all-women or something. I can't really explain it and I don't take it terribly personally but that's also a little easy for me because I get total support here at the workplace (mathowie and cortex have my back if anyone's being really squirrely or creepy) and I dont need to stay here to get my PhD or anything (if only!). I dont overgeneralize either since most people here are terriffic in all ways, but it is sort of weird to think that part of my job involves basically being the person who is like "hey can we all make fewer rape jokes here?" and then dealing with the inevitable baclash that comes with that.
posted by jessamyn at 1:21 PM on June 27, 2009 [31 favorites]


"This is some people behaving badly. However, this may have been standard operating procedure [i.e. men made rape jokes to each other] before women came on board and were suddenly like "hey that's not quite so funny, please stop" Then, the reaction to that [whether it's "oh yeah okay, sorry about that" or "fuck you, whore"] really determines what sort of environment you feel like you're in, whether it's hostile-feeling to you or not."

To put another spin on it—most of my friends and peer group in high school were Jewish (at both high schools I went to). I've got a name that people assume is Jewish, even though my pals knew I wasn't. We'd make anti-Semetic jokes all day long, and nothing was as funny as the Holocaust. It was deliberately provacative, but understood by everyone to be a joke because we knew each other.

I've tried to dial back on the lolacaust here, especially after Jessamyn has sent me notes, even though those same pals and I have joked about, say, the Holocaust Museum shooting in pretty dark ways. I might still occasionally brush up against the walls of good taste (he says, demurely), but it's not like it's OMGZOG that's making me hold back, it's that it both makes people uncomfortable without necessarily having much of a payoff, and it makes me look like more of an ass than I'd like to be. While I might be able to tell the difference between making fun of traditional German anti-Semitism and engaging in it, I can recognize that not everyone finds the same things funny, and ironically doing something isn't necessarily enough distance to make it funny or OK.
posted by klangklangston at 2:25 PM on June 27, 2009


Sorry, ladies, for makin' this all about the dudely response to female nerd-dom.

(And geeks bite chicken heads.)
posted by klangklangston at 2:26 PM on June 27, 2009


(personal tangent) I think rape jokes, saying "it looks like you're getting oral" to someone who doesn't talk like that (worse still, musing about it when they're a third party), etc. are totally over the line. The reason I've been angsty about this issue recently (after never being threatened by feminism or women's rights or whatever) is after seeing that a guy made a presentation called CouchDB: Perform like a pr0n star at a conference and got such a firestorm of reaction that I'm just like, wtf? I'd hate to somehow stepover an arbitrary line somewhere in my life and suddenly become rhetorically lynched as the lightening rod of all that's evil in the world. I definitely understand the gradation issue on a personal level — I would say to a female friend something lascivious about someone else that I wouldn't say to that someone else! (end personal tangent)
posted by Non Prosequitur at 3:34 PM on June 27, 2009


a guy made a presentation called CouchDB: Perform like a pr0n star at a conference and got such a firestorm of reaction that I'm just like, wtf?

Metafilter thread hashing out various perspectives on that incident.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 3:44 PM on June 27, 2009


I'd hate to somehow stepover an arbitrary line somewhere in my life and suddenly become rhetorically lynched as the lightening rod of all that's evil in the world.

That's a given; pretty much everyone hates that idea. Nobody wants to make an ass or a target of themselves because of mere thoughtlessness or ignorance.

But that's not an excuse to put the onus of accommodation on the people potentially bothered by your thoughtlessness. I only heard tangentially about the CouchDB thing, but my main impression is that the guy was a thoughtless goon to have chosen to make a presentation like that. Going forward, it may occur to him that giving a general tech presentation as if he were speaking to a middle school boys' locker room is in fact a crappy social strategy.

And for every person who wanted to "lynch" him there's twenty people who just think it was stupid and in bad taste and are happy to say as much and leave it at that and hope he and anyone getting his back can process some of that and take it into account in the future.

That's what a lot of this is about—not lynching someone for daring to be undeferential to the magical game-ruining needs of The Women, but just sort of taking the time to realize that their assumptions about what's okay and what's not might need some adjusting and reconsideration if they don't want to continue making shit needlessly uncomfortable for women who want to just participate in good faith reasonably comfortably.

Not treating the situation like something essentially reducible to Be Emasculated Or Be Lynched—a really overblown and unlikely scenario nonetheless invoked by guys on the defensive in these sorts of discussions sometimes—is part of that.
posted by cortex at 3:55 PM on June 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


I mean this more as an honest musing than as a bulwark of excuse. I guess there are gradations and in contexts where women are the minority it's more important to be more careful?

In the context we're discussing here, sex talk and salty language function as the outward manifestations of what is largely an issue of group power dynamics, as emjaybee writes. A pervasive climate of sex jokes, especially in the workplace, can be - and often is - a form of sex discrimination. It's on a par with condescending chivalry, say, or the kind of compliments and other flattery that are used to manipulate women into doing more than their share of the grunt work. It maintains inequality in status. It's a way of undermining women's power through the use of veiled threats or dominance. See Jessamyn's comment above for examples of this.

Hostile, territorial humor of this sort serves several purposes. It protects "men's" domain from the threat of "intrusion" by women, reinforces dominant group norms, and functions as a kind of social glue. The underlying idea here seems to be that long as women can be reduced to sex objects* or otherwise belittled, they don't have to be respected or otherwise taken seriously, no matter how much power they may gain. (Or at least not seriously enough to be contenders for promotion to top management positions or high salaries.)

Objecting to a climate of hostile humor involving sex jokes is not at all the same thing as finding sex talk offensive in general, or not being interested in sex or dating. (Though I think some people find it politically useful to behave as if there's no difference, because then the problem can be laid at the feet of women again - why, they're just "prudes," of course, or they're "uptight" or "can't take a joke.") The questions we need to ask are: what kind of sex jokes, and in what context are they taking place? Study the group dynamics closely, read a few relevant feminist writings (anyone reading this should feel free to MeFi mail me for book recommendations, BTW) and I suspect you'll find that there's a lot more going on than meets the eye. Developing your awareness of the countless ways sexism plays out - especially the more subtle ways - will go a long way toward making the world a better place for female nerds.

* Being considered a "sex object," as I use the term here, implies being devalued or depersonalized as an individual, seen as serving a decorative function ("smile!"), reduced to a non-person who is unworthy of respect, or otherwise treated as if her primary value is her perceived or actual sexual accessibility to men on their terms. It has nothing to do with the kind of integrated, robust, personal, welcome sexual appreciation many of us nerd women actually enjoy in our personal lives.
posted by velvet winter at 4:04 PM on June 27, 2009 [9 favorites]


my main impression is that the guy was a thoughtless goon to have chosen to make a presentation like that.

Wow, I missed all of that the first time it came by. I'd like to add to what cortex said that yeah, it seems a little clueless - I do a lot of presentations, one of which has a quick shot of someone in their underwear, not porny, and when I went to speak in Dubai I took it out just to be on the safe side because who wants to look like a jerk? - and if I was not sure how to take it, the guy's non-apology cemented the deal. I find that in most cases, whether it's me or someone else no matter what gender, if you piss someone off inadvertently, even if you really stick your foot in your mouth, a genuine apology will smooth over most things.

So, maybe you can't expect people psychically to understand your needs but when you say "hey, those retard jokes make me uncomfortable, my brother is retarded" then people have a choice and what they do after that point is a little more telling about their general willingness to meet you partway. This is simple in person to person communication, or simple-er, and tough in big groups especially when there may be the impression that saying something offends or bothers you is being a little too sensitive. I trot this out a lot on MeFi too but there are people here who are offended by swearing to whom we say "I think you may be being a little too sensitive, or maybe MeFi isn't the place for you there's a lot of swearing here" and then there are people who are offended by rape jokes to whom we say "yeah that's sort of a problem here sometimes, but we really don't want the place to seem rapey, let's see what we can do" and then we try to do something about it. And again, if MeFi is too sweary for you, that hasn't gotten in the way of your employment prospects or your education, so it's easy to be a little flip.

The CouchDB guy? If he'd just said "oh yeah my bad, I think I'm writing for my teenaged self sometimes..." or something that sounded honest, I don't think this would have turned into such a thing. So similarly, Non Prosequitur, if you just misjudged and did something that maybe turned into a thing, and you honestly weren't meaning to be a jerk about it, I'd be willing to bet that you'd be able to be like "oh hey, sorry about that" and it would mostly be okay.
posted by jessamyn at 4:36 PM on June 27, 2009


Thanks for that link to the earlier thread on the CouchDB thing, CI. I somehow managed to miss that the first time around. In that thread, Pastabagel writes:

"...the now-adult nerd community, taken as a whole, needs to own up to the fact that it is has a very disturbing conception of women and sexuality."

Yes, yes, yes. And my experience as a female nerd has been that this pervasive, disturbing conception of women and sexuality has a lot to do with the reasons why women are still underrepresented in male-dominated technical fields, especially at the upper levels. I also think it has a lot to do with why a good number of the female nerds I know have trouble building truly egalitarian sexual and romantic relationships with male nerds, even as they contend with the strangeness of having a "posse" of admiring guys surrounding them.

Which is why we need the antidote: geek feminism.
posted by velvet winter at 4:52 PM on June 27, 2009


Oy. I so understand what that guy was thinking. "I'll make a comparison to an unrelated, even outrageously different, subject matter to cement my points in the mind of the audience."

Thing is, done right, that's the formula for a great presentation.

"What could go wrong? There are no rape jokes," he thinks, "and I'm not being creepy to an individual female. I'm just using the tropes of the genre to hook the audience. Heck, my female coworker was telling me about her support for the rights of sex workers just the other day. It'll be fine."

And yet, it's not.

(NB: the actual slideshow borked on me after the first twentish slides, so there may have been something later that makes me look stupid.)
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:15 PM on June 27, 2009


Thing is, done right, that's the formula for a great presentation.

Well, again: just because something could in theory have been done right doesn't mean that a deeply flawed execution is beyond reproach. There's this idea advanced sometimes that somehow an objection to a specific mistake—and the class of problematic approaches it represents—is a de facto assault on a broader class of categories of communication, and that I think is part of why this kind of discussion ends up going south. It becomes about defending the counterfactual not-fucked, not-offensive variant on a line of thinking, when people are basically saying not "don't ever try that" but rather "think carefully about the social implications of what you're trying to do."

Alll of which stands aside from the fact that dude's "fuck you, get a sense of humor" in-line defense of his own moronic shit guts thoroughly the notion that his intentions were pure and the negative reaction he got was an uncontemplated product of a benign approach. He was, at best, a colossal idiot, and that's giving him the benefit of the doubt.
posted by cortex at 7:11 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Female nerds are hotter than hot.

That statement is one part 'my best friends are black' and one part missing the point by a wide margin. The fact that my hotness is somehow relevant to the discussion is made of fail. Humans are sexual creatures, with a wide range of fetishes, so nerd girls is no worse than high heels or furries, but just like there's a time and place to have sex, there's a time and place to celebrate that you get sexually excited over me. I'm not an attractively packaged orifice, and telling me that I am is not a compliment.

You are not a rare snowflake for fapping to glasses. In this context you're as creepy as the guys who bug my Asian female friends because of equally preconceived notions of how someone of that category can act.
posted by Phalene at 7:21 PM on June 27, 2009 [15 favorites]


Skimming through peoples comments on the disparity between female and geek is almost like being a gay geek.

Women are expected to behave in certain ways that are somewhat at odds with 'geekhood' and the same seems to go for young gay men. But... I'm sorry I'm too busy with my projects, reading interesting books and teaching myself programming to do facials, spend allot of time in the gym and flat-iron my hair every morning.

That being said; it's pretty hot when a boy beats me at King of Fighters.
posted by kzin602 at 7:22 PM on June 27, 2009


Nerds are hawt.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:06 PM on June 27, 2009


Well, again: just because something could in theory have been done right doesn't mean that a deeply flawed execution is beyond reproach.

True, I'm just pointing out a possible path that would lead to that, which may imply that the guy didn't hold women in particular contempt.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:45 PM on June 27, 2009


You know, I've been hanging around Mefi before I was able to get a membership-- since 2000 or 2001--and this kind of discussion thread right here was not the kind of thing I saw then when gender issues came up (as part of other discussions usually). In that, things are much better in the Blue, generally, and it makes me all verklempt.
posted by emjaybee at 8:59 PM on June 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


True, I'm just pointing out a possible path that would lead to that, which may imply that the guy didn't hold women in particular contempt.

Absolutely. And as a sometimes-fairly-clueless dude, I really sympathize with that predicament on a personal level. The thing that's key here is the realization that, too often, the assertion that that lack of contempt is supposed to translate to some sort of Get Out Of Jail Free card, when, no: you can get credit from those willing to give you the benefit of the doubt that you didn't mean harm, but that doesn't mean that harm wasn't done.

At a certain point, the willingness to admit inadvertent harm and commit to personal improvement is the measure of a person. Call it the Jay Smooth Principle: people who can deal with being told that that thing they did was problematic without assuming that it means they're being told that they are problematic are in a position to really bloom and grow and make the best of a tense interaction. People who wall up and use the tension as an excuse to say "fuck you, I'm rock solid and this is a fucking conspiracy", not so much.

My impression of the CloudDB dude was pretty poor, as far as that goes. I get the feeling that he was a pretty crap examplar, from the pre-emptive fuck-you opening to the post-hoc fuck-you non-apology.

ChurchHatesTucker, I want to be super-clear that I'm not putting any of that on you, and I totally appreciate you engaging gamely on the subject. It's just that that sort of example, being brought up as a counterargument, can be pretty problematic in it's own right as sort of extending a systemic refusal to deal with the problem, and I want you to understand why I'm calling bullshit on that dude even if I can appreciate what you're trying to bring up by mentioning him.
posted by cortex at 9:34 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Someone upthread asked about T&A in the context of D&D. The thing about T&A isn't that there's skin showing; it's that the art shows all kinds of men in all kinds of costumes and women are always hawt and nearly naked. You get the same thing in comics, where you can have guys in spandex or tin cans like Iron Man but even Wonder Woman has to wear a skimpy bathing suit most of the time. The message is men can do anything but women are there for eye candy.

It's the hostile environment thing velvet winter is talking about, but not from individual guys, from the people making the games or creating/drawing the comics. Then the companies who produce the comics and games wonder why they can't get girls to play D&D, read comics, etc. when it's fairly obvious to the women that the games/comics/etc. show all females as sex objects for male pleasure and not as equal human beings. The lesson it reinforces is that geekspace is male-only and female-hostile.

(Obviously I don't believe that or I wouldn't be gaming or in this thread talking about it, but there's the implicit message even if the content producers and most of the male consumers don't see it or agree with it.)
posted by immlass at 10:12 PM on June 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


you can get credit from those willing to give you the benefit of the doubt that you didn't mean harm, but that doesn't mean that harm wasn't done.

Exactly. Well said, cortex. Harm is done every day in spite of people's good intentions, because that's how social systems work. Good intentions don't make up for the harm that is perpetuated when sexism (and homophobia, racism, transphobia, etc.) goes unchallenged.

Like all oppressive social systems, sexism can be - and is - perpetuated without men consciously having bad intentions or actively conspiring amongst themselves to defend male privilege. Growing up in a society where sexism is the default means that people who live in such a society will tend to accept it as normal and unremarkable - woven into the fabric of everyday life. Sexism, especially the more subtle forms, is invisible to many people because we're swimming in it and are not taught how to recognize it. People who want to actively resist sexism have an uphill battle to fight, because the path of least resistance will continue to be reinforced if no one challenges it. There is a lot of reluctance to challenge it, though, because there's a cost: oftentimes people who do so aren't taken seriously (e.g., "but it was just a joke!") or face social ostracism or other hardships. That's a powerful disincentive to rock the boat, particularly if there's a lot at stake in a professional context as well as a personal one.

There is reason for optimism here, but it's not because people ultimately have good intentions and didn't mean any harm. The more often people are willing to 1) acknowledge that harm was inadvertently done regardless of intent, and 2) take it upon themselves to learn how to avoid doing the same thing in the future, the more we'll have reason for optimism.
posted by velvet winter at 10:55 PM on June 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


things are much better in the Blue, generally, and it makes me all verklempt.

Aw, emjaybee, now you've got me choked up as well. (And you get extra geek points for your choice of words, to boot).

Maybe we can attract even more geek feminists to MeFi if we keep it up!
posted by velvet winter at 11:04 PM on June 27, 2009


when it's fairly obvious to the women that the games/comics/etc. show all females as sex objects for male pleasure and not as equal human beings

That's true--the characters need more variance. But the criticisms with characters are so contradictory that it seems like such a minefield. I don't know man. Just looking at this thread, it's like, if a female character is hot, that's problematic. If she's dowdy, that's problematic. If she kicks ass, that's problematic. If she doesn't fight, that's problematic. If she's very into a man, that's problematic. If she's not seeking affection from men, that's problematic. If she's good with technology or isn't, that's problematic. *any permutation* of the above (hot & good with tech, not hot but good with tech) is problematic. The other day I was flipping through a book I had when I was 13 where there's a column "was shakespeare a feminist?" where they said although his heroines were strong-willed and quick-thinkers, they essentially all wanted to settle down so he was working within Elizabethan mores. It reminds me of a criticism of Kill Bill I read somewhere that said that although The Bride kicks major ass in the end she's just in it for the kid. Which is like, so if she wasn't into her kid they'd be like, "an ass kicking character is shown as frigid and affectionless." Half the time they're like "why do you have to comment on Marisa Mayer's looks when you're writing an article about her" and half the time they're like "you only put cameron diaz on your show coz she's cute, put some dim-witted men on there too". Maybe human beings, their characters and their motivations are more subtle and complex.
posted by Non Prosequitur at 1:54 AM on June 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Female nerds are hotter than hot.

That statement is one part 'my best friends are black' and one part missing the point by a wide margin. The fact that my hotness is somehow relevant to the discussion is made of fail. Humans are sexual creatures, with a wide range of fetishes, so nerd girls is no worse than high heels or furries, but just like there's a time and place to have sex, there's a time and place to celebrate that you get sexually excited over me. I'm not an attractively packaged orifice, and telling me that I am is not a compliment.


Wait, so do you feel this way if a female says "geek boys are hot?' or "nerds are sexy?" Are women over sexualizing brainy guys?
posted by thisperon at 2:28 AM on June 28, 2009


Maybe human beings, their characters and their motivations are more subtle and complex.

Yes. This is what I want, as a female geek/nerd, in my geek-centered media. That plus protagonism, and not just one. Buffy is not enough. I want there to be more women in Star Trek than Uhura, I want female Jedi, I want a Wonder Woman movie with the sort of love and care paid to it that we got for Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, etc., etc., etc. And when I'm with my geek friends, I want to be treated like one of the tribe, not like I'm there for the sexual interest/pleasure of the group, or of my single geek protector male.

For me, personally, things are a lot better than they were in the 80s, but some of that is self-selection. I stay out of geekspaces that I feel are unwelcoming/hostile. I have male geek friends who are feminists, whether or not they'd so self-label. But a lot of it is that there are geekspaces that aren't female-hostile any more, even if some of them aren't hostile because we carved them out ourselves. I like the spaces where it's OK to be a female geek and not just on sufferance because I'm hawt.

Wait, so do you feel this way if a female says "geek boys are hot?' or "nerds are sexy?" Are women over sexualizing brainy guys?

Can't speak for the person who said this, but it's not the classiest thing for a woman to say because of fetishism and objectification, if nothing else. But the thing is, female harassment of male geeks isn't the kind of historical reality that male (geek) harassment of female geeks is, and my understanding, at least in the circles I've run in, is that male geeks don't find "[male] nerds are sexy" threatening or dehumanizing the way many female geeks do.

It's not fair that guys who don't mean to be pigs have to live with the legacy of sexism, but they do, and this is one of those places where it hits them.
posted by immlass at 7:33 AM on June 28, 2009


Wait, so do you feel this way if a female says "geek boys are hot?' or "nerds are sexy?" Are women over sexualizing brainy guys?

Well, context matters. In this case the context was one user's charges of affirmative action for women, "justifying Western feminism's attempts to destroy the male identity by co-opting anything they do," and "There is a nontrivial majority of American women who believe that they are entitled to anything and everything, regardless of their skill set and whether or not they've done the work." In this context, I don't think it's weird to read that user's "hotter than hot" postscript as "women: stay away from my classroom, but you're still good for sex!"
posted by trig at 8:55 AM on June 28, 2009


if a female character is hot, that's problematic. If she's dowdy, that's problematic. If she kicks ass, that's problematic. If she doesn't fight, that's problematic. If she's very into a man, that's problematic. If she's not seeking affection from men, that's problematic. If she's good with technology or isn't, that's problematic.

If she is the only female character visible, and she is any of these things, that's problematic (see xkcd). "Female" is not a character trait.

If there are a few female characters, and each is defined only by one or two of these things (The Hot One, The Dowdy One, etc.), that's problematic. (But maybe slightly less than the first example, if it passes the Bechdel Test.)

If there are many visible female characters who each have any or some or none of these traits as part of their personalities, that's not problematic because now you have varied, multifaceted characters who just happen to be female. If one is kickass but she's just in it for the kid, she could be balanced out by another one who is kickass with no interest in family, or even a third who isn't really kickass at all but is affectionless anyway. As the number of complex female characters increases, the chance that someone will criticize you for stereotypical depictions of women is reduced.

And that's how equal representation works, kids.
posted by casarkos at 9:41 AM on June 28, 2009 [9 favorites]


Wait, so do you feel this way if a female says "geek boys are hot?' or "nerds are sexy?" Are women over sexualizing brainy guys?

immlass and trig have given good answers. As they said, it depends on the context. I think one of the keys to understanding how this works is being able to identify the power dynamics involved. I recommend a recent post on the subject by Suzanne E. Franks, a feminist and engineer, that addresses this cogently. Here's a quote:

Can a woman objectify a man, or not?

Yes, she can - under certain conditions. If she's his supervisor or superior in a work or educational situation, and the behavior is making him uncomfortable and is interfering with his work or learning, if he's being forced to submit to the behavior as a condition of his work or learning, then it's objectifying, and sexual harassment, and illegal.

Otherwise, in general, in social situations, women checking men out and ogling them adds to their sexual power, whereas men ogling women diminishes their status. That's how patriarchy works. Objectified women may have their status as sex objects increased, but the status of female sex object is not a high one in a patriarchal society.

posted by velvet winter at 10:35 AM on June 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wait, so do you feel this way if a female says "geek boys are hot?' or "nerds are sexy?" Are women over sexualizing brainy guys?

I am attracted to men who are good with children. However, in a discussion of male custody rights, it would be a sexist non-sequitor to say that perhaps males having equal stake in childcare would destroy what it meant to be female, but boys who babysit are hot, so I don't want to limit men, honest!
posted by Phalene at 11:12 AM on June 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Someone upthread asked about T&A in the context of D&D. The thing about T&A isn't that there's skin showing; it's that the art shows all kinds of men in all kinds of costumes and women are always hawt and nearly naked. You get the same thing in comics, where you can have guys in spandex or tin cans like Iron Man but even Wonder Woman has to wear a skimpy bathing suit most of the time. The message is men can do anything but women are there for eye candy.

If you're talking about Frazetta-inspired fantasy art, the hulking male anatomy is as much on display, whether shellacked under spandex or not. I don't see where you gather the impression that these shrink-wrapped men can do anything. That is not the wish granted by this art. Both the men and women operate on the same principle of physical heroism.
posted by kid ichorous at 11:30 AM on June 28, 2009


And:

Otherwise, in general, in social situations, women checking men out and ogling them adds to their sexual power, whereas men ogling women diminishes their status. That's how patriarchy works.

Circular reasoning. That's how patriarchy works.
posted by kid ichorous at 11:35 AM on June 28, 2009


"If you're talking about Frazetta-inspired fantasy art, the hulking male anatomy is as much on display, whether shellacked under spandex or not. I don't see where you gather the impression that these shrink-wrapped men can do anything. That is not the wish granted by this art. Both the men and women operate on the same principle of physical heroism."

Except that's not true—The women aren't powerful women. I mean, look at the body types of Olympic athletes in comparison. They generally have small breasts, thick torsos, thick legs… Franzetta women, anatomically, shouldn't be able to wield their swords—their wrists and arms are too thin. And even when powerful women show up in comics, like, say, Barda, they're still overly sexualized. Artists draw based on tits and hips.

Part of that is because it's hard to draw women that read as women without emphasizing secondary sex characteristics. But that's circular reasoning, in that bad art justifies bad art.

As a side note, one of the blogs talking about the CouchDB thing (the guy with the Frag Stars) mentioned that "no guy was offended." That's something that frequently annoys me—the thought that as a guy, I can't be offended by t&a. I'm probably not offended for the same reason as women are, but it offends me that people attempt to pander to me by sexualizing women in order to get me to spend my money. It's like, you're so dumb and sex-driven that we can dispense with making something that's appealing on its own merits.

The show Time Warp is particularly galling with this—I just want to see the cool shit in slow-mo, not the ZOMG tits that they keep trying to package things with. But also, you know, nearly every goddamn ad that deals with domesticity, with the lunkhead dude befuddled or whatever.
posted by klangklangston at 12:58 PM on June 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


Klang, I didn't say that all of Frazetta's women can do anything; I said that his men certainly cannot. They can't tie a fucking windsor knot, unless it's a giant reptile draped over their neck. They're just a map of anatomical landmarks, like the women. Bulge here, bulge there. It's purely physical heroism. At least his women can look more Circe than manhog.
posted by kid ichorous at 1:18 PM on June 28, 2009


Yeah, but you're not getting what I'm saying. For Franzetta et al. male power equals MASSIVE MUSCLES. Female power equals MASSIVE TITS. Tits are only powerful passively—they're looked at. Muscles do things. If you can't get that this is a gendered difference that puts people off, I don't know what to tell you.
posted by klangklangston at 1:35 PM on June 28, 2009 [5 favorites]


If you're talking about Frazetta-inspired fantasy art

That's only one style of D&D art, but I think klangklangston explains the problem. Superheroes as drawn by certain artists have the same problem, but nobody thinks a Superman who can't tie a windsor knot is anything but super, if badly drawn.

It's also that across the styles, men can be fighters (armored or not), magicians with robes, thieves in swashbuckler type gear, etc., and women, no matter what role they play, are always half-naked. Or, the protagonist in the scene is male and he's rescuing a woman from a monster and the implicit threat is that the monster's going to rape the mostly naked girl, etc. If you're a guy seeing this art, you might not want to be/play this male as shown in this image, but you can probably find a male image you want to be/play. If you're a girl, not so much.

Anecdotally, I talked to a well-known artist who did a lot of work for TSR (Larry Elmore) in the day at a con once and asked him why his female characters were always close to naked. He shrugged, said he didn't think much of it either, and told me that was what the marketing departments of the publishers he worked for wanted.
posted by immlass at 3:06 PM on June 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


>ChurchHatesTucker, I want to be super-clear that I'm not putting any of that on you...

No worries. I've been reading the blue long enough to get that.

I've been noodling around the concepts of 'inadvertent offense' and '(un)justified offense,' but I'm getting nowhere with it. The fact that I'm not interested in reading all the CouchDB stuff doesn't help.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:47 PM on June 28, 2009


I guess for people like us ChurchHatesTucker it's more helpful to think of it in terms of context-appropriateness than politics/truth/judgment. So if I call my roommate "dude" and she's okay with that but if I call a group of (older?) women "guys" and they dislike it, it doesn't mean I'm being evil or denigrating in the latter instance; it's just not working out for that particular social situation. I like emjaybee's comment for this idea. (It reminds of a memo I saw issued late in the Bush administration that ordered federal agencies to lay off the term "Islamo-fascism": "It's not what you say, but what they hear," the memo says in bold italic lettering.)

I also like frobenius twist's comment about the whole 'women have a lot more to fear from men than vice-versa.' It's something I overlook. So you can't be like "don't freak out—there's no chance anyone at this conference is going to harass you—are you kidding?" if women have to be on the alert for these sorts of cues all the time.

I think this also explains why sometimes women go from "I'm not gonna say anything and just decide you're a douchebag" to "four alarm fire" in reacting to things that bother them.. they just don't want to "experiment" and see what happens if they politely say "hey can you stop with that?" As in, maybe sometimes it's harder to say "my eyes are up here" than to either do nothing or to flip out and be like "you're a creep!!"

So in sum: it's not about sexuality, it's about comfort in the environment; sometimes what's okay in one context ("check out this sexy ad") isn't okay in another; and Build Trust First.
posted by Non Prosequitur at 7:30 AM on June 29, 2009


also, jessamyn, thanks for the detailed responses.
posted by Non Prosequitur at 7:37 AM on June 29, 2009


It is a dangerous fallacy to assume that any statement which is true when the word "male" is involved is automatically true when that word is swapped for "female." I'm a bit scared of opening this can of worms, since speaking of it tends to lead to derails, but I'll do it anyhow: It is a fact that women in this country are sexually assaulted much more frequently by men than men are assaulted by women. Women have a lot more to fear when men speak in a sexualized way than when the genders are reversed. We cannot ignore gender imbalances in this country when considering these issues.

....Just pointing out the minor detail -- there have been instances of men also being the target of sexualized harrassment in some workplaces -- where it was a guy who was the butt of the "Hee hee Sid better watch out he doesn't get reamed up the ass" taunting.

I think it's possible to acknowledge that this happens to women more commonly than it does to men, but to also acknowledge that this is an action that is inappropriate for anyone to be doing to anyone of any gender in a group where not everyone knows everyone well enough.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:01 AM on June 29, 2009


>The thing that's key here is the realization that, too often, the assertion that that lack of contempt is supposed to translate to some sort of Get Out Of Jail Free card, when, no: you can get credit from those willing to give you the benefit of the doubt that you didn't mean harm, but that doesn't mean that harm wasn't done.

I think what's nagging at me is that, while that statement is generally true, it's incomplete. Just because harm is claimed, doesn't mean it was actually done. (Unless offense=harm.)

>it's not about sexuality, it's about comfort in the environment; sometimes what's okay in one context ("check out this sexy ad") isn't okay in another; and Build Trust First.

Absolutely true, but context is a two-way street.

For example, I used to work with a lot of women. When talking to a couple-steps-up supervisor, I referred to my coworkers as 'the girls.' She took umbrage with my terminology. I asked her if she ever 'went out with the girls,' and she dropped the matter entirely. She was offended, sure, but I pointed out that her offense was groundless and she tacitly agreed.

I suspect that the CouchDB guy thought he had a situation similar to mine. I'm not even going to bother looking through that mess because it really doesn't matter what I think, it's a societal conversation. What bothers me is that fact encourages a 'run for the edges' mentality, in order to stake out the largest possible base of power.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:47 AM on June 29, 2009


That "the girls" thing is actually a pretty common scrape people have run into for several decades. ("But you call yourselves girls!") I don't know the answer to that. I guess the idea is to shrug off the "You did X because you're so-and-so" and just not do X. Getting into an argument that you're not actually so-and-so is where one starts losing, so pick your fights I suppose. So yeah, I agree with you on the harm vs offense thing.

but to also acknowledge that this is an action that is inappropriate for anyone to be doing to anyone of any gender in a group

I'm trying to imagine this convo.. "Hey Mike, as your female boss, I can't believe you couldn't negotiate that deal. You're such a bitch! Plus you walk like a chick." Sounds like a porn movie: "Over my knee till you grow a pair!"
posted by Non Prosequitur at 10:56 AM on June 29, 2009


but to also acknowledge that this is an action that is inappropriate for anyone to be doing to anyone of any gender in a group

I'm trying to imagine this convo.. "Hey Mike, as your female boss, I can't believe you couldn't negotiate that deal. You're such a bitch! Plus you walk like a chick." Sounds like a porn movie: "Over my knee till you grow a pair!"


1. I never said it was female bosses. Or even bosses, actually. (The case I read about years ago involved all men, with a bunch of guys in an office trying to bully one other guy.)

2. Demi Moore and Michael Douglas actually made a movie about the scenario you describe (female boss, male subordinate), which was presented as a thriller, with Michael Douglas fearing for his life, rather than porn...although, granted, Hollywood's departures from reality in that film were supposed to have been quite whumping.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:01 PM on June 29, 2009


I know; I was just kidding. Seriously though I was trying to imagine a sexual harassment situation where the sexes are reversed and the two examples that came to mind are either that one (mocking via feminization) or making someone insecure by talking about how hot other men are all the time. I suppose you could unnerve someone by hitting on him if it's clear he's disinterested or otherwise dislikes it as well. So again the harassment can happen all three ways, by expressing too much interest in their sexuality or by making them insecure or by making them generally uncomfortable with the environment.
posted by Non Prosequitur at 12:22 PM on June 29, 2009


Interestingly, I don't regard the "mocking-via-feminization" as mocking via feminization. I regard it as "mocking via threat of violence." (Not calling you out here, Non Prosequitur, you've just happened to be the person to say the thing that triggered a tangent.)

It's the same thing that makes women uncomfortable with rape jokes -- it isn't because we're delicate flowers, it's because, well shit, if someone is trying to crack a joke about forcibly violating you, it doesn't matter what gender you are, you're gonna be unnerved. Sexuality doesn't necessarily enter into it. And when it's a guy who's the target, it still isn't necesarily about "feminization" so much as it's about someone trying to crack a joke about forcibly violating you -- which, again, is an unbelievably weird thing for people you don't know too well to be joking about.

Sometimes it isn't about men and women needing different treatment, and "oh noes we must cut out the rape jokes because now a girl is here". Sometimes it's about common sense and "hang on, in what world is it right to joke about rape involving someone you don't know directly to that person's face?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:40 PM on June 29, 2009


Hmm. Yeah that's like crossed circuits right there. I don't mean insulting a guy or telling a guy he's gonna be raped is less problematic. I just mean that when a woman tells a guy he's PMSing or drives like a girl or is timid like a chick or whatever there's a jagged edge there. Coz there's like three logical contradictions in the insult (what's wrong with throwing like a girl, so what if i throw like a girl, plus aren't I allowed to throw however the bleep i want?)
posted by Non Prosequitur at 1:10 PM on June 29, 2009


It's like telling an assertive woman that she's not a real woman and you're sure she has an adam's apple.
posted by Non Prosequitur at 1:20 PM on June 29, 2009


I just mean that when a woman tells a guy he's PMSing or drives like a girl or is timid like a chick or whatever there's a jagged edge there.

Well, to my mind, it'd also be a problem if a guy told another guy he was PMSing or drives like a girl.

It'd also be a problem if a man told a woman she were PMSing or drives like a girl.

It'd also be a problem if a woman told another woman she were PMSing or drives like a girl.

That is, if we're talking about people who don't know each other well enough for such "jokes". I mean, there are exceptions -- the first time I met one of my old boyfriend's friends, they all were cracking an immense load of twisted homoerotic jokes at each others' expense (to the point that I started to wonder about a couple of them). BUT -- they had all known each other since high school, and they all KNEW each other well enough to be certain that they were all good friends and that such jokes WERE in fact just jokes, and nothing more than friendly -- albeit weird -- good-natured ribbing.

Some stuff just plain isn't appropriate to joke about with someone you don't know well enough to know whether they will understand it IS just a joke.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:22 PM on June 29, 2009


Every job in tech i've ever interviewed for where men are hiring me (which is all except one), the interview includes a big section of them being incredulous that I grew up liking computers and asking a lot of questions about how i "got into computers" as if I fucking had 3 heads.
posted by geeklizzard at 10:57 AM on July 14, 2009


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