Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Men, Women and Geek Culture

Yes, I’m throwing my two cents into this arena. I really feel like I have to. It’s a long post today, but I really have a lot to say on this topic, so bear with me.

As anyone with an internet connection and any kind of link to the geek community at large is aware of, the topic of harassment and the treatment of women has been huge recently. And, in my opinion, this is a good thing. It’s an important topic, and one that we, as geeks, need to talk about.

Before I get too deep into this, however, let me start by talking about why this is important to me, and basically what my geek credentials are.

I’ve been a geek my whole life. And when I say geek, I mean I cross over many strata of the geek spectrum. I am a fan of Fantasy and Sci-Fi, be it film, TV or books. I love comic books, from the flashy, four color world of superheroes to the darker, more serious books like Sandman and everything in between. I’ve played Dungeons & Dragons, and various other RPG’s, since I was six years old. I’ve owned some form of a Nintendo home game system since I was eight, including the Game Boy, NES, N64, Game Cube and now the Wii. I’ve also owned an Atari 2600, an Intellivision and a PS2. I’ve played MMOs of some sort since Everquest, and various other PC video games since the original Zork. I was an arcade junky back in the 80’s. I have owned and wore in public Star Trek costumes, including bajorin nose make up and ear ring.

My dad probably is who started me on the road to geek culture. He gave me a good grounding in sci-fi, starting with E.E. Doc Smith and Ray Bradbury when I was a kid. He added fantasy later with the Hobbit. He expanded my instruction with the introduction of Isaac Asimov when I got older. He continued my education with TV and movies, with such classics shows as Star Trek (TOS), Lost in Space, Battlestar Galactica (the original) and movies such Forbidden Planet, the Day the Earth Stood Still and Them. He was also the one that introduced me to Dungeons & Dragons, when he bought for my older brother and then we all got into playing it. My dad ran many a campaign for me and my friends over the years, and has since played in campaigns I’ve run, including one I’m doing to play test the new D&DNext.

I expanded much on my own, finding new authors I loved, finding the joy of comic books and discovering video games. My geekiness just grew and flourished, all thanks to those initial seeds planted and nurtured by my father.

Now, even back then, as a kid, I realized that geekdom was predominantly a boys club. My friends and I in high-school would lament that there just weren’t any girls with the same interests as us, and how much we would love it if women could just discover the sheer joy of geeky goodness.

That changed for me when, in high-school, I found such a girl. My first real, serious relationship was with a wonderful girl who came into my life already interested in geek related stuff. In fact, she introduced me to several things that I still love to this day, such as Anne McCraffy and the Dragonriders of Pern, and the Sandman comic series and Neil Gaiman. She even played in all of my D&D games that we ran during the time. And I realized then just what how wonderful it was to have women in the geek community. My D&D games changed for the better with the introduction of a single woman to the group. My awareness of woman authors expanded as she introduced me to the ones she loved to read. I realized, at the tender age of 17, that women only added to the geek culture, they made it better. And it would only be to the betterment of geek culture to seek out and welcome more women.

And that leads me to today. I’m sure we’ve all heard the things happening in the geek world. The stories of Anita Sarkeesian and GenevieveValentine are all over the place, and I won’t be re-hashing them here. The links will bring you to all the information you need to know.

But I will say this. I’m honestly shocked at the treatment these women have received. And here’s why.

Even back in high school, my friends and I (all male) lamented the lack of women with interest in our favorite genres, mostly role playing games, but TV shows and books too. We discussed why it was and how things could be changed to make our favorite geek things more accessible. We talked about role playing games, especially fantasy ones, penchant for chain male bikinis, and sci-fi’s insistence on skin tight space suites that get strategically torn. We weren’t really aware at the time of terms like sexualization and misogyny, but it occurred to us, even back then, that maybe these kinds of images were not attractive to women.

We weren’t sure what the answer was, but we knew that continuing to show women that were half naked while the men wore full armor with massive swords was probably not it. And so I am shocked that a woman who says she wants to investigate these very tropes in the video game industry, people get outraged. As if she is declaring she wants to take away your favorite toys or something.

And while I’ve always had crushes on women who appeared in my favorite shows, or authors of my favorite books, I never tried to make passes at them or stalk them. I admit, this was mostly out of cowardness, but I also know what my father taught me about treating women, and that included the lesson that “no means no.”

And then came the news story about someone who was angry at pretty women who claimed to be geeks, but clearly couldn’t be. Because, after all, pretty women don’t like geeky things, right? They MUST be seeking attention and to manipulate all those lonely, looser geek boys.

I particularly hate this kind of talk, because not only does it reinforce two very negative sterotypes of both sexes, but it shows a lack of awareness of modern geek cultures. Most of the male geek friends I have are married, many of them to geek women. They have children, who they are raising to be the next generation of geeks. The idea of the lonely geek boy in his parents basement is an image that needs to die and be buried with other things from the eighties that should never return, like leg warmers.

But most of all, I’m shocked at the lack of welcome that geek women are getting from geek men. For years, my friends and I lamented the lack of women in our culture. Now, I look around and see that there are thousands of geek women out there, as many, if not more, as there are men. And yet, there are a number of very vocal geek men that seem to not want them here. As if this were some kind of tree house, and the sign on the door clearly said “No Gurls Alowed!”

As if we have a choice in allowing into the geek culture who we want. As if there is a gate to be guarded. Geekdom isn’t some kind of exclusive club. Hell, it’s not even a club, it’s more a state of mind. Sports fans that love to paint themselves up in team colors and wear the jerseys of their favorite players, that memorize the stats of all the players in the league, those are geeks. People that have memorized every line of dialogue from every play written by William Shakespeare and love to not only watch his plays, but perform in them, or maybe design costumes for them, they are geeks. The guy that has every single phone that BlackBerry has ever created and keeps up with their blog, tweets, news about the latest product, how it affects his life and business and what he can do with it in the future, that’s a geek.

Being a geek isn’t about loving something obscure or being able to quote lines from episode 5 of season 2 of the original Star Trek. It’s about being passionate about what you love. It’s about expressing that passion with other people that share it. And it should be about welcoming anyone that shares that love, or that is even interested in learning about what you love. It should never, ever, be about isolation and exclusivity.

Geek culture has grown tremendously since I was a kid. Part of that is due to the inclusion of women. I’ve been starting to see it grow due to the inclusion of other cultures, and I look forward to that as well. But in the mean time… guys, seriously, knock this shit off. Women are a part of our culture. If we’re really honest with ourselves, they always have been. And this idea that there’s a gate and they’re not allowed to pass it unless the meet some kind of critiea needs to stop. And the treatment of women as if they were something other than fellow geeks, that also needs to stop. These geek girls out there, they’re not some strange, magical beast or mythical sexual conquest. They’re fellow geeks, and we need to be embracing them, as people, as we would any other person that shares our passion.

It took geeks a long time to escape (if we truly have) the stereotype that we’re all fat boys living in our parent’s basement with our funny shaped dice and video games. I would really hate to see us replace that view with one of us being a bunch of angry, woman hating losers.

So, come on guys. Stop fighting against what has already happened, and embrace the growth and enrichment of our community. Give it a try. I’ll bet you find you’ll actually like it.

1 comment:

  1. This post is brilliant, perfect, and exactly in line with my stance on the issue. You're right- it's an inclusive club (or ought to be). The fact that geeks are being marketed to (using sex, of course) is only a sign of the acceptance of geek culture into mainstream pop culture. It's inevitable, and as long as it doesn't segregate geeks as stereotypical losers (any more so than media stereotypes everyone) it's probably a positive thing.

    Thank you for posting this!