Overcoming Sexism in Geek Culture

This past weekend was MileHiCon (MHC), and I experienced a whirlwind of conversations in peak moments. However, I was also on two specific panels back to back that become controversial (by nature), and I want to contrast some of the shared concepts and get my thoughts out on virtual paper. This post likely will be less cited than most of my comments about women’s rights–this is a reaction/conversation post.

The two panels in question were (in order): Overcoming Sexism in Geekdom and Geeks Assemble! (the latter being a panel about whether it’s good that Geek is going mainstream).

On the first panel I was amongst many women plus the brave Dan Dvorkin, who likely expected to be shunned as the only male on the panel. I also found it interesting that every single participant was white and some variant of blonde–interesting because that theoretically focused our specific discrimination complaint to being female, although we had other variance in the group.

Now, there are some things I want to point out about both panels. In both cases someone pointed out that members of the geek culture frequently serve as “gatekeepers” for other members–they feel the need to keep the girls, or the anime geeks, or the goth geeks, or the sports geeks, or whatever kind of geek, out of their area of enjoyment. They pee on the lamppost of their geekdom and expect their loud chest-thumping declaration of adoration to stand for ownership in absence of their creation of the very geekdom/fandom they seek to claim. This very tendency even started a casually loud argument between Aaron Ritchey and me about whether JJ Abrams’ Into Darkness is ruining his childhood or shaping the childhoods of the next generation. I believe that any sci-fi that entrances a new generation is worthy of attention. Just like the Romeo and Juliet remakes that keep causing the grownups to roll their eyes–how else will the new age of technology incorporate the classics?

Someone asked the question “When did Nerds become Geeks?” I answered that it happened as a transition when being a “geek” might mean that you made a lot of money in that thing you were passionate about. It’s the Age of the Geek, so to speak, and smart people are making loads of money on things that probably got them beat up or shoved into lockers in high school.

Now, apologism is high in the sexist anticulture, and I have a particular problem with the way that people (male and female alike) will apologize for the geeky males. “Oh, they don’t know how to act around girls, so that’s why they do those socially unacceptable things.” Yes, absolutely. I always threaten to rape anyone who makes me uncomfortable in a social situation. It’s like a chest bump of love.

In my experience, the reaction I have had from the geek guy community has been that they treat me like one of the guys, or fail to acknowledge my existence. The former is assisted by my appearance (not exactly boobalicious here), and the latter is difficult for most people to do. So when I flare up in a conversation and say “Hey! That was a misogynystic comment! I’m still identifying as female over here!” it’s usually a cold bucket of water over their heads. Sometimes that means I lose the friendship. If I were more traditional (ha, ha) in my mentality, that would probably be enough to keep me from speaking up. But you know what? Misogynyst jokes are just like racist jokes, because they are against an entire group of people. A REALLY BIG GROUP OF PEOPLE.

There was a middle aged white guy in the audience sitting up front, and he had a lot to say. Some of it could have used some social understanding (IE, not making those blanket “well, *I* don’t behave that way toward women” statements), but mostly he was participating despite potential backlash. And he did get it. Someone in the back verbally bitch slapped him for speaking up. Shortly thereafter, someone else went on a tangent about white guy shaming, so called.

So, I guess the definition of white guy shaming is calling out the group (white guys, particularly aged 18-85) for the fact that their privilege is out of control and they’re abusing the system. And then one white guy gets upset, offended, feelings are hurt whatever. And we’re comparing that to slutshaming where a girl thinks she looks pretty and the whole world tells her she obviously is just in it to be a whore. Oh, and she gets rape threats. Bet the white guy gets those too, right?

Someone pointed out that it’s not possible to white guy shame, and I kinda agree, but on this point:
My pointing out that your common white male name on the top of a resume makes you at least 40% more likely to get a callback than my unidentifable maybe-black-maybe-female-maybe-European name does not cost you jobs or even encourage you to change your name to Locutus. You don’t lose anything.
My pointing out that being white and male makes you considerably less likely to be followed around a store by a clerk who expects you to steal does not make the clerk follow you around.
My pointing out that you being a white male gets you a high-five-free-rape-pass (especially if Football is involved) obviously doesn’t limit your opportunities or capability to rape.

Verdict: My shaming doesn’t cost you anything. Shaming is the wrong word. I’m calling you on your historical right to be better than everybody else because culture and society told you you can have whatever you want, and you bought into that malarky when it was bottle fed to you by everyone around you.

But you know what? You’re a grownup now. And now you are required to take action and take responsibility for that action.

My friend Matthew Boroson tells the story of his father who, in 1970s New York, parked by the side of the road only to find a very large angry African-American screaming at his window. “Move this car!” he shouted, over and over. Finally, Matt’s dad rolled the window down and said “What do you want?”
The man said “You parked on my foot!”
Matthew (who wears shirts like “This is what a feminist looks like”) relates this to the so-dubbed Dinosaurs of groups like SFWA, who make the argument that they are old and set in their ways. But even those set in their ways have a social obligation as not-socipathic-members-of-society to stop and listen when someone says “You’re hurting me!”

Someone else made the argument that not every woman feels safe coming out and saying “Stop. You are hurting me.” To that I say that is our responsibility to speak out. If we do not speak out against the attitudes of our peers and those before us, how will our daughters learn to walk with their heads up? But if you are faced with something that you can’t speak out about, it is your responsibility to find someone who can speak on your behalf. We are 51% of the population. We have voices, and if we cry out and let them hear us we will overshadow and drown out the voices of those who try to shout us down.

Another person mentioned that they were upset by a concept called “slobshaming,” particularly when people call out how she dresses at cons. I will agree that, prior to the business conferences I have attended, I previously might have been upset with someone asking me to dress “more professionally.” My issue with this idea is that how you dress portrays what you want other people to perceive about you. That’s your control over the situation. Hygiene is important, and using independence from judgment as an excuse for poor hygiene is just that–an excuse. However, the problem is that “professional dress” is defined completely differently for men and women. Case in point: The KMBS manual for business attire had one page for men and twelve pages for women. Seriously. Lots of “you aren’t allowed to wear this” type images. Really discriminatory, but this IS the company that wouldn’t cover my wife because they didn’t have the funds…11 billion dollar company and all.

This may be one part rant and one part recap.
But it is also me speaking out, and bringing some thoughts into the conversation.

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3 thoughts on “Overcoming Sexism in Geek Culture

  1. Daniel Dvorkin says:

    Good post.

    FWIW, I wasn’t expecting to be shunned, exactly. Mainly I was worried I’d start “mansplaining,” and rightfully be taken to task for it.

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