I wrote a post yesterday exploring how girls and women identify themselves or get identified as geeks. In the course of doing that, I thought it was important to point out some of the sexist and misogynistic behaviors that seem unfortunately somewhat common in some geeky circles. That post spawned some very interesting comments, but I was concerned that we were going down a different avenue of conversation, focused more on why male geeks mistreat female geeks than on how female geek identity is formed. I hope nobody minds too much that I figured that conversation deserves its own post.
Now, to address the those comments, I’d like to focus on a claim Jordan made:
I would argue that Female involvement gets special explanation because geek culture has been extremely misogynistic.
I would argue that this is a bit too broad of a generalization—would I say that even half of the geeks I’ve met in person were sexist?—but it is not inaccurate.
All the actual behavior we’d think of as misogynistic or sexist in geek culture has almost exclusively been visible to me on the internet (or described by others in certain small, isolated contexts full of nerds, such as at certain conventions and CS departments). Not that there aren’t woman-hating dorks wandering around the streets or at the cons I’ve attended—just that certain anonymous or isolated social contexts make people feel they can let this side of themselves show.
So, yes, there is a sexist and misogynistic side to geek culture which is unfortunately quite common in some circles. Saying that women get mistreated because geek culture is misogynistic, however, is somewhat tautological. Let’s take that a step further: Why have so many geeks been so hostile to women?
In the post from yesterday, I guessed at why there are more male than female geeks, and I think we can similarly hazard some guesses as to why many male geeks are misogynistic. Basically I think this comes down to feeling rejected and threatened by women—either personally/romantically/sexually or in terms of professional and cultural identity—and trying to cut women down to feel better about themselves. Some geeks have indeed turned to coding or gaming or whatever to prove their worth as men, according greater worth to geeky knowledge than to traditional indexes of masculinity; contemplating women excelling in these fields raises questions about how masculine they really are.
Others may feel resentful about rejection, which gets guys (like in one of the above-linked posts) claiming that the exclusiveness of computer culture is no worse than “stupid fashinista culture.” They are resentful over feeling personally rejected, and frame their exclusiveness and rudeness as a response to women as a stereotyped “other.” On the other hand, some are just desperate and socially inept, and may sincerely think that harassing women online might yield some kind of personal or sexual interaction.
As for the specific example of misogyny among gamers and sexism in the gaming industry, further explanations abound. Perhaps the most compelling relate to the historical gender makeup of the industry, which was born of earlier-established, male-dominated academic and professional cultures. You see this playing out in both design and marketing (meant to titillate boys).
Based on my own experiences, I don’t see “geek culture,” broadly speaking, as misogynistic. Actually, I see it kind of torn between two mindsets: one, a sexist mindset built on isolation from women and the freedom of anonymity, and the other, an open-minded and welcoming mindset built on a rejection of “mainstream” norms and self-conscious (even self-congratulatory) embrace of the intellect and social progress. This duality was hinted at by a keynote speaker at ROFLCon, who pointed out that “Internet culture can be very sexist, homophobic and racist,” but also allowed that this could be directed by netizens themselves: “If this is the culture we’re building as internet nerds, lets have it be something we’re proud of.”
I think it’s fairly easy to guess at how the sexist side of geek culture developed. I wonder how the more open-minded side has developed, and what could be done to spread that.