Sexism and Misogyny in Geek Culture

April 29th, 2008

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.


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32 Responses to “Sexism and Misogyny in Geek Culture”

  1. Jordan Says:

    “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.”

    That focus wasn’t my intention. Misogyny and sexism isn’t only promoted by men, and my point was that the way female geeks are treated/portrayed is probably linked to how their identity is formed. But apologies if we took it somewhere besides where you had hoped.

    “I wonder how the more open-minded side has developed, and what could be done to spread that.”

    Maybe the open-minded side is just a result of more open-minded people coming to geek culture (in a parallel to mainstream culture). I don’t think that geek culture is misogynistic either (broadly speaking). But geek culture does exhibit some extreme forms of sexism (some of them systematic) that are troubling, to me. This sexism doesn’t always get properly acknowledged and/or called-out, and doing so might help the “open-minded” side thrive.

  2. Tela Says:

    Excellent posts, both of them.

    I would argue that ultimately geek mysogyny has its roots within the same source of all types of discrimination: the preservation of power and control of a majority group.

  3. Jacob Says:

    While geek misogyny may have its roots in the conflation of a subcultural meritocracy and male exclusivity, this still doesn’t explain its continued presence in geek culture. It’s been my experience that while very few self-professed geeks are particularly misogynist, and will always acknowledge the issue, there is a broad reluctance to voice a dissenting opinion.

    The open-minded culture that is supposed to oppose this is exactly the same that allows for its continuation. Geek culture is in part defined by the acceptability of a deep interest, one that in an individual is likely to have already caused social problems. The tradition of opposing ostracization at any cost — so long as you are committed to whatever it is your geek culture is focused on — means that while you might not like your misogynist neighbor, you don’t talk about it. Being thick-skinned is not a masculine ideal inherent to geek culture, but an established requirement for participation in this culture of acceptance.

  4. Jordan Says:

    “will always acknowledge the issue, there is a broad reluctance to voice a dissenting opinion.”

    I agree with Jacob, and I would add that sometimes the reluctance to voice dissent manifests itself as a refusal to acknowledge the issue in some circumstances.

  5. Doctor Science Says:

    I just found this via metafandom. I’ll have to read your other posts and see to what extent what you call “Geek Culture” is a subset of what I call “the Nerd World”.*g*

    I’ll just say that my gut reaction to “why is there sexism in geek culture?” is, “because it’s part of a misogynistic society.” Unless you can show that geek misogyny is *different* from that of society as a whole, the parsimonious explanation is to say that nothing in particular is going on here. It’s as though you’re constructing an argument for “why Geeks frequently wear jeans” that is based in something specific to Geekdom, when the real reason is because *everybody* wears jeans.

    Now in fact, I would argue that misogyny in both your Geek Culture and my Nerd World is reduced compared to the larger “mundane” society — but *that* would be something that needs explaining. Misogyny in young males is the default for our society and requires no sub-cultural explanation.

  6. Alex Seigfried Says:

    Ultimately girls hold the purse strings on geek relationships. If you make the mistake of assigning a new girl to the ‘medic’ role in your game then expect a 50% chance of rejection. A lot of girls go one way or the other, either they are trying to be that uber cute girl they see in anime or they are the tough, kick your teeth in with a battle axe type who hates being treated like a girl.

    The very fact that a girl likes sci-fi, D&D, comic books or computers is to be worshiped on hand and knee. I may sound misogynistic but let’s be honest with ourselves, no mater how many ‘ogynies’ and ‘isms’ we label this as, girl geeks control the way they are perceived by their friends. If your a woman hater then expect to spend a lot of lonely nights with your Dungeon Master Sourcebook.

  7. Jordan Says:

    girl geeks control the way they are perceived by their friends

    Really? The victims of sexism are the ones who control it? I don’t buy it. If that were true, you’d think they would just wish all the “ogynies and isms” away, no? Maybe the people who control sexism are those who perpetuate the stereotypes that support it. For example, stereotypes about the roles (“a lot of”) women want to fill in society (geek or other).

  8. Jacob Says:

    Ultimately girls hold the purse strings on geek relationships.

    Oh good, the beginning of a misguided argument about sexism in geek culture that manages to include a flippant metaphorical reference to gender roles, you know, to prime your audience for what’s to come.

    Being held on a pedestal is not the desirable role you make it out to be. It is isolating and controlling, and does nothing to reflect the complexity of personality that both women and men often aspire to. Your two examples of roles for girls in gaming are simplistic, and show me nothing more than the gulf between your acknowledgement that overt sexism is bad and your ignorance of the social needs of real people.

  9. Aenna Says:

    Based on my own experiences, I don’t see “geek culture,” broadly speaking, as misogynistic.

    Based on my own experiences, I do. It’s misogynistic as any other Western, heterosexual-male dominated subculture, but it’s still misogynistic.

    I wonder how the more open-minded side has developed, and what could be done to spread that.

    I think what you should be wondering is how you can stop misogynists enacting misogynistic behaviour. Here’s a clue: Making excuses for them like, “They’re all hurt little woobies who feel excluded from the myth of the Magical Masculinity Confirming Heterosexual Hive Vagina” isn’t going to help.

    As a woman, I have to say, the more I see victim blaming like the above, the less accomodating I feel towards those who feel wronged by women as a whole. Funny, that.

  10. Jason Tocci Says:

    Thanks for the comment, Aenna. I’m reading this as a direct criticism of the original post, rather than the comments that follow, but please correct me if I’m mistaken. Allow me to reply directly to your points.

    It’s misogynistic as any other Western, heterosexual-male dominated subculture, but it’s still misogynistic.

    I suppose what I meant was that I don’t see geek culture as homogenous enough to call it, across the board, more misogynistic than other subcultures or its parent culture.

    I think what you should be wondering is how you can stop misogynists enacting misogynistic behaviour.

    I have been wondering that, actually; here, I was implying that one way you could stop misogynistic geeks from enacting misogynistic behavior would be by shifting (sub)cultural norms such that that kind of behavior is branded as unacceptable. Right now there are circles within geek culture where it’s not just considered acceptable, but commonplace and accepted.

    Making excuses for them like, “They’re all hurt little woobies who feel excluded from the myth of the Magical Masculinity Confirming Heterosexual Hive Vagina” isn’t going to help.

    As a woman, I have to say, the more I see victim blaming like the above, the less accomodating I feel towards those who feel wronged by women as a whole. Funny, that.

    You misread my post. I make no excuses for misogynists. Here, all I meant to do was to discuss what kind of social and cultural circumstances might underlie what we consider socially unacceptable behavior. Having felt rejected can help explain why someone thinks or behaves ignorantly, but it doesn’t excuse them for it.

    I am having a hard time rereading the above post and figuring out where you see victim-blaming. I welcome you to clarify that, or to offer any other alternative perspective on misogyny in geek groups you think would be helpful to consider.

  11. Aenna Says:

    I don’t think I did, especially not this part…

    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.

    Yeah, no. Men from all walks of life – not just geekdom – make up this excuse to give some point of origin for their shitty behaviour towards women. And it’s crap. It’s the “Nice Guy” syndrome. It doesn’t matter if they’re the most traditionally masculine, sopcially powerful stereotype you can think of, it’s stil a shallow, empty excuse for their disgusting behaviour which completely blames the victim by constructing women as a whole as threatening and making all their behaviours about how they effect men around them (because god forbid they actually, y’know, be autonomous creatures within their own selves instead of worrying all the time how their actions affect the men in their lives), nevermind the fact it’s completely heteronormative and ignores the behaviour of gay male geeks whose gender construction is not based on the traditional heterosexual paradigm, and whose behaviour is often as disgustingly sexist as their chest-beating heterosexual counterparts.

    You’re right, there are circles where it’s considered acceptable, and one of the problems with this is that geek culture heavily blurs the creator/consumer line, with people who identify as geeks quickly becoming the creators of mass-produced cultural objects which are then consumed again by their fellow geeks in a capital model slightly different from the very class-differentiated norm. One perfect example is comics culture, where most creators are/were comic geeks in their past (and still are) and the future writing desks of the Big Two will probably be filled by the comic geeks of today, who are absorbing the misogynistic crap Marvel and DC continue to spit out. The social and cultural circumstances that underly any kind of model like that are simply that the cycle of misogyny continues because – as with all social models – the people with the most power continue to let it happen and actively spread such bigotry – just read Joey Q’s rubbish about Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage.

    It doesn’t matter how logical or thought out or fact-based your arguments against these kinds of people are, they just don’t give a damn, and I’m speaking from years of experience. It doesn’t matter how welcoming and inclusive you are of these kinds of men, they’re still going to be misogynists, and letting them into your playpen (which for women, traditionally, and especially online, has been most fandom subcultures of which comics is a notable exception) is just giving them more ammunition for their hatred.

  12. Jason Tocci Says:

    “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.”

    Yeah, no. Men from all walks of life – not just geekdom – make up this excuse to give some point of origin for their shitty behaviour towards women. And it’s crap.

    The way you’re reading my quote from above is if I had said, “Some geeks have misogynistic attitudes because they were mistreated by girls and women.” If I can rephrase it to highlight the operative phrase, I would say, “Some geeks have misogynistic attitudes because they feel like they were mistreated by girls and women.” I meant it the latter way, which was phrased deliberately neutrally insofar as the question of whether geeks were actually mistreated by anybody at all.

    Now, though, it would be sort of a cop out for me to entirely avoid the question of whether (heterosexual, male, and ultimately misogynistic) geeks actually were mistreated by anybody. I think the most honest way to address this would be to point out that there’s a pretty substantial body of research that illustrates how badly kids who get labeled geeks get treated by their peers, but there’s no indication in that research that girls are meaner than boys in that regard. Actually, this literature describes physical hostility as particularly bad between the boys, and social ostracism as particularly bad between the girls, with the rejected little boys getting the “geek” label applied to them more frequently. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, I’ve actually seen a lot more hostility toward traditionally hypermasculine men (among heterosexual, geeky men) than toward women in most pockets of geek culture I’ve moved within.

    Does this mean that all kids who get labeled geeks are treated as absolute garbage by their peers for years on end? No, not necessarily. Some, for example, turn a vague sense of not-belonging into an identity of bitterness and difference far out of proportion to whatever they imagine they’ve suffered. But I think it would be blindly reductive to deny that treatment by one’s peers can affect one’s formation of prejudices and stereotypes later in life.

    That said, even if we were to argue that some geeks actually have been actively harassed and rejected by their peers, and that those who suffer this harassment are more likely later in life to unfairly redirect their hostility toward others seen as representative of their former tormenters—athletes, women, uncaring teachers, or whomever—in no way does that imply that hatefulness is “excused” or victims ought to be “blamed.”

    The social and cultural circumstances that underly any kind of model like that are simply that the cycle of misogyny continues because – as with all social models – the people with the most power continue to let it happen and actively spread such bigotry

    This is a really good point, and I’m glad you brought it up. I just don’t see it as mutually exclusive with what I was describing above, or as wholly sufficient to describe why misogyny seems acceptable to many geeks. This model neatly sums up why women are mistreated in geek culture, but it completely fails to address why hypermasculine, heterosexual, male athletes—a traditionally culturally “dominant” group—should be very similarly (and even more vehemently) reviled.

    In other words, I see the “exercise of power” model as the social context that keeps misogynistic norms in place, but I think other external factors beyond the subculture and its related media industries might be worth acknowledging in terms of how people come to organize themselves into what amounts to members of a demographic who actively seek sexist content.

    nevermind the fact it’s completely heteronormative and ignores the behaviour of gay male geeks whose gender construction is not based on the traditional heterosexual paradigm

    Fair point, though much of the actively exclusionary behavior I’ve seen among geeks has been cast in explicitly heterosexist terms (i.e., heterosexual male geeks making no big secret that they blame women for rejecting them). I’m not saying that this blame is rightly cast—I’m saying that this is how an observable number of misogynists construct this understanding among themselves. I’ve never seen gay-male-geek misogyny that was noticeable as such, but I don’t doubt it exists, given the general tenor in some circles that we’ve discussed. And actually, I’d be genuinely interested in hearing about any specific examples of this that you could toss my way.

    It doesn’t matter how logical or thought out or fact-based your arguments against these kinds of people are, they just don’t give a damn, and I’m speaking from years of experience. It doesn’t matter how welcoming and inclusive you are of these kinds of men, they’re still going to be misogynists, and letting them into your playpen (which for women, traditionally, and especially online, has been most fandom subcultures of which comics is a notable exception) is just giving them more ammunition for their hatred.

    First: When I said that there’s a major part of geek culture is “inclusive” that’s worthy of encouragement, I didn’t mean that the best way to fix misogynists is to invite them to hang out with you. I meant that when misogynists invariably do show up on your websites and your cons—and they will show up—it’s better if they see that you’re being welcoming to the folks they’d otherwise be excluding. And at that point, let’s just hope there’s more of us than there are of them.

    Second: I won’t withhold my own arguments just because misogynists might twist my words to mean something I never meant and justify a position I actively denounce. Having a functionally unlimited backlog of other people’s arguments to twist for “ammunition” is the luxury of the ignorant and the dishonest.

  13. Aenna Says:

    Jason, as someone I discussed this with pointed out, female geeks don’t hold misandric views towards men as a whole sub-class of geekery the way the geek men do, even though they’ve often been equally mistreated and gender-marginalised/prejudiced en masse, in much more real and substantial ways than male geeks could possibly imagine, let alone experience – violence, sexual abuse and emotional abuse don’t skip the geeky part of female subcultures, I assure you. So, I don’t think treatment by one’s peers leading to stereotyping is a valid argument, especially not in regards to mistreatment by the feminine gender.

    Yes, geeky men get mistreated because of their lack of gender performativity in the traditional roles. Yes, this happens from all areas of society – from the men and boys who actually embody the more traditional behaviours and the women who have internalised misogynistic patriarchal values. Yes, geeky girls get this rather strongly as well since geeky girls are seen to be performing masculine behaviours rather than traditionally feminine ones. But said girls are not found to express the same gender-hating values back at the men who hurt more than just their feelings and egos the way the geeky men do, especially when you consider that a lot of them have way more of a reason to.

    So really, I don’t see past wrongs as even a reason for misogyny, since the evidence doesn’t logically follow on the flipside of the gendered coin. It’s just something they say, yes, but it holds no value outside of empty hot air.

    but it completely fails to address why hypermasculine, heterosexual, male athletes—a traditionally culturally “dominant” group—should be very similarly (and even more vehemently) reviled.

    From my experience in various geeky male subgroups, they are. However, the accusations against such groups are usually expressed through pathetic homophobic slurs, which doesn’t really make much sense but just goes to prove we haven’t come a long way in 50 years, when you consider that all sides in Germany were calling the other homosexuals before, during and after the war. It’s the insult du jour for any kind of heterosexual masculinity, geeky or otherwise.

    And actually, I’d be genuinely interested in hearing about any specific examples of this that you could toss my way.

    I’ve been part of gay comic fandom and the misogyny in that is almost as bad as the misogyny of the Big Two and it’s fans. I think this might just be a problem with comics in general, though. It would be difficult to research on a wider scale since most gay geeks don’t explicitly advertise the fact unless the subculture is based around some gay-themed media or community.

    I meant that when misogynists invariably do show up on your websites and your cons—and they will show up—it’s better if they see that you’re being welcoming to the folks they’d otherwise be excluding.

    I think the problem with this is that you can’t tell someone’s a misogynist just be looking at them. You can by reading their blog and finding out that yes, they initiated the Open Source Boob Project, or maybe you can see that they’re wearing one of the stupid buttons associated with said project, but physically they’re no different from the next person. And I say ‘person’, because there’s as many women in geek cultures with massive amounts of internalised misogyny as there are men. It also raises the question of the creators – Many of the creators of shows/comics/games I know, enjoy and respect still have huge amounts of gender baggage which is expressed both through their creations and their interviews. And outside of voting with your pocket – which may or may not work, depending on the subculture – there’s not much you can do to get the message across to these people.

  14. Jordan Says:

    If I can rephrase it to highlight the operative phrase, I would say, “Some geeks have misogynistic attitudes because they feel like they were mistreated by girls and women.” I meant it the latter way, which was phrased deliberately neutrally insofar as the question of whether geeks were actually mistreated by anybody at all.

    This is still victim blaming, because it assigns (in part or in whole) the cause of the misogynistic behavior to its victims… In other words, whether or not the mistreatment *actually* occured, it implies that the behavior of the women was somehow a seed for what later happened. Jason, since this argument was your very first answer to the question “Why have so many geeks been so hostile to women?”, the implication definetely colors the rest of what you write, even though that may not have been your intention.

    It might be better to start by asking what about the world we live in makes it somehow acceptable to mistreat an entire gender as a way of coping with feelings of loneliness, disappointment, or inadequacy in highschool (or whenever).

    Also, to add Aenna’s point about female geeks and misandry, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of male geeks systematically lashing out against the males who may have mistreated them in their formative years. Sure, I’ve heard of resentment towards those who harassed male geeks, but, for example, on the whole I don’t see male geeks harassing male jocks online nearly as violently and consistently as they do female geeks. So the phenomenon definetely seems to go beyond being a result of earlier mistreatment.

    Great dicussion, thanks.

  15. Jason Tocci Says:

    Before addressing anything more specifically, I’d like to start by clarifying what I meant on a particularly contested point.

    I think what I wrote has been interpreted as if I had meant that geeks get picked on by girls, and this causes them to be mean to women later in life. That’s not what I meant. I was very careful to say in my original post that my argument concerns how these geeks feel about (that is, construct) their past. In that post, all I was saying was that geek misogyny is constructed around blaming women for geeks’ own insecurities. This is victim-blaming on the misogynists’ part, as described by some comments here. What was missing from that post was some guess as to what might have engendered that feeling of rejection; Aenna, I think, filled in the blank with me claiming that geeks were actually rejected by women (and that this caused geeks to become misogynists), but this was never what I meant to imply.

    When given the opportunity to expand on this in the comments, I thought I should introduce (for my first time in this discussion) the possibility that there might be some actual persecution in geeks’ childhoods and adolescence to consider as a factor in this. I did this in a way that I had hoped would make clear that this persecution comes largely (even mostly) from members of the same gender. In doing so, I expected the implication to be that it’s not rejection by girls, in itself acting as a major causal factor in developing misogynistic attitudes. It might be, however, that being rejected by one’s peers more broadly is a factor that causes some geeks to construct a sense of resentment, hostility, even hatefulness—and some geeks construct and redirect this differently from others.

    Now, I will try to tie all this together. I think that having feelings of rejection by women—leaving aside whether one was rejected by anyone at all—is a major predictor of later misogyny. Where do those feelings come from? Not necessarily by being rejected by women, but perhaps by being rejected and feeling powerless more generally by most or all peers. I think that some individuals who are actually persecuted by peers attempt to find a specific target to blame for their rejection, reshaping their feelings of inadequacy into feelings of rejection by women. Women make an easy target for persecuted boys to blame, representing a group who may be more easily constructed as an unfamiliar “other” (for heterosexual and homosexual males alike), and who they may sense some traditional cultural power over already.

    I think that this indicates that we have agreed more than we have disagreed. I am on board with the assertion that we live in a cultural context with self-perpetuating and institutionalized power. That’s just not what I focused on in my original post, as it’s an area of theory and research that has already been very well explored.

    I hope that adequately addresses some of the concerns expressed in the last set of comments. I did want to address two other things more specifically, though.

    First, Aenna said:

    I don’t see past wrongs as even a reason for misogyny, since the evidence doesn’t logically follow on the flipside of the gendered coin.

    This is an interesting point. But again, I don’t mean to argue that past rejection is the sole causal factor of misogyny, and I never meant to imply that it was cross-gender harassment that was specifically making male geeks pick on female geeks, but harassment more generally that gets redirected at a target rather than a source. The fact that female geeks don’t display widespread hatred for popular males does probably point to the explanation that there isn’t a cultural prescription for such an attitude already (and/or that there is an active cultural prescription for males to pick somebody to target for blame, I suppose). It doesn’t preclude the possibility, however, that past harassment plays some role in what triggers certain actions or how perpetrators justify them.

    And second, Jordan said:
    on the whole I don’t see male geeks harassing male jocks online nearly as violently and consistently as they do female geeks

    And Aenna said:
    the accusations against such groups are usually expressed through pathetic homophobic slurs

    I think there’s a lot more to the male geek/male jock tension that you’re acknowledging, and I’m confident that I could throw out a bunch of examples, given some more time. For now, I’m going to share a couple quick examples in a new post on this subject, as this comment is getting pretty long.

    Thanks to both of you, by the way, for your detailed responses. I hope you can forgive me in advance if I don’t offer much in the way of future responses, but we’ve kind of hit my blogging limit for awhile if I want to get any actual work done…

  16. Geek Studies » Blog Archive » Geeks vs. Jocks Says:

    […] of my posts from April, “Sexism and Misogyny in Geek Culture,” saw some really long and detailed comments a few weeks back. (If it’s a topic that interests […]

  17. sam Says:

    very well written amd insightful. I believe that not only does the sexism within geek culture spawn from reasons such as these, but is also caused be the very same social rules that govern the rest of society. maybe us geeks are a little more socially apt than we let on…

  18. David Says:

    Some of these Geeky guys and girls are always having their identities called out, either by a stronger figure or media. Alot of male geeks will get lost in the virtual world of gaming and anima. Have you seen some of these female charactors on anima?

  19. Christiana Says:

    Hi Jason, I’ve been scanning through your old posts and finding the ones on geek culture fascinating!

    Regarding why women may feel uncomfortable or unwelcome within that culture, I was wondering if any of your posts discuss the visual representation of females in video games, comics, and science fiction (it seems like you must have, I just haven’t come across it yet). To my mind, a lot of visual media aimed at “geek” consumers is so blatantly objectifying that I feel immediately put off. Of course women are objectified visually all across the media – but with, for instance, comics, there is a prevailing idea held by most women I’ve talked to about it that these are explicitly male fantasies – so even if geek guys treat women respectfully in real life, there’s the sense that they’re happy consumers of misogyny.

    Sorry if this is just rehashing stuff you’ve talked about a million times! But I’d love it if you could direct me to content on this topic.

  20. Jason Tocci Says:

    Actually, I haven’t written about that myself around these parts because I figured the subject was already so well discussed by others (largely fans) on the web and in academia. See, for instance, When Fangirls Attack, a compilation of articles about gender in comics and comics fandom, and From Barbie to Mortal Kombat, an academic book about gender in video games. (I’ve asked a couple friends who study gender, gaming, and comics for some other recommendations, too, but these are the things that pop to mind right off the bat.)

  21. M. D. Joyce Says:

    Hello,
    I realize that much of this discussion took place a year ago, but I got excited after I saw that a post was made so recently and couldn’t keep from posting. I fully expected the dates on the posts to be from 1991 or something–thus you can imagine my joy!

    Allow me to explain how I found this page, bear with me as I know it’s boring, yet it is relevant: my fiancée readily identifies herself as a member of the geek subculture, specifically anime and gaming (not video gaming, but tabletop and card games). Suffice it to say I never saw an anime movie or series until I met her. The more I saw, the more disturbed I became regarding the pervasiveness of “fan service” and blatant sexism that was portrayed (usually) in a lighthearted manner.

    Now, I realize nearly all films have sexism to some extent, but there is such a thing as gradation, and from my experience the majority of anime series (as David points out) have an absorbent amount of sexism within them. Thus I found myself reading this webpage.

    As a feminist activist who has organized more than a few events for NOW, I have to say that I found the pessimism Aenna exerts disheartening. I think, of course, that Aenna is brilliant and points out many important things; however I have serious problems with statements like these:

    “there’s not much you can do to get the message across to these people”
    and
    “It doesn’t matter how logical or thought out or fact-based your arguments against these kinds of people are, they just don’t give a damn”

    This is, in my opinion, incredibly false and to a dangerous degree. Aenna obviously cared about sexism in the subculture, yet takes a hopeless inactive stance on it. The logic for this doesn’t make sense to me–for if there were “not much” one could do about combating misogyny in the subculture–and that, according to Aenna the main reason for sexists in the geek subculture is because of percolation of sexist sentiment in the mainstream culture–then what change do we have to change the minds of sexists anywhere? In the mainstream or in a specific subculture? It seems you are advocating we do nothing and just throw our hands in the air and bitterly curse geek sexists in our dark corners.

    Certainly: if we don’t attempt to change the status quo and just let it be, we will indeed have no chance to alter the stagnation. It seems to me that attitudes like that are self-fulfilling.

    It IS possible, and totally possible, for a subculture to become less misogynistic than the larger subculture as a whole. As an example I give the punk subculture, for instance. While widely regarded as initially typically sexist, after female bands (such as the Slits in England, Bikini Kill in the U.S.) and enlightened male bands offered differing viewpoints the subculture began to shift. Indeed in most punk circles it is now the requirement for (predominantly male) members to be anti-sexist. [Interestingly, I read a blog article online about how punks are becoming so anti-sexist, that they increasingly exert violence and abuse on men they deem to be sexist… an ironic paradox, as such behavior is typical phallogocentric, patriarchal thinking!] Another subculture that has (as I understand it) more open-mindedness and less sexism than normal society is the goth subculture. I am sure there are other male-dominated subcultures with more egalitarian views, but these are the only ones I can speak for with some knowledge.

    The way these two subcultures changed is because the cultural productions created by members of the subculture (albums, fashion, writings) advocated feminist views and pointed out the hypocrisy and denigration of women within the subculture. Why is it so impossible for this to be done in the geek subculture? Granted, I understand some such things are being done, but they seem to lack impetus from the people in the subculture, going largely ignored. This only means more needs to be done, and that those people with pro-feminist viewpoints need to speak louder. Not bitterly retreat to that familiar corner.

    Thanks for this discussion and all the posts as well,
    Mike

  22. Jason Tocci Says:

    Thanks for commenting, Mike. I get emailed when people comment, so I try to follow up whenever I can.

    If I may follow up in the spirit of Mike’s hopefulness, I’d like to share a page I stumbled upon recently: a list of “Resources for Men” in the Geek Feminism Wiki. (I hadn’t been aware that there even was such a wiki until Google Analytics told me that some people found their way to this site from it.)

    I haven’t read all the links on that page yet, but I was particularly fascinated by “A Straight Male Geek’s Guide to Interaction with Females” (linked to not by that page but by one of the links on that page, “Don’t Be That Guy”, who points out that the behaviors in the “Guide” should be common sense, rather than a rarity in some circles). I also thought that the “Male Programmer Privilege Checklist” offered an interesting perspective, coming from someone who altered his extrinsic gender (female to male), and suddenly realized just how different the experience of being a programmer can be depending on gender (both in terms of one’s own subjective discomfort and objectively observable treatment by others).

    P.S. I sure like to use parentheses.

  23. Enn Says:

    I think that misogyny in both geek and everyday culture are linked very closely. If we talk about why many geeks find sexism acceptable than we must talk about society as a whole.

    I used to think that sexism in the world was entirely due to men, but I think the factor has more to do with how both genders build up their identity as children. For instance, When males grow up they have to separate themselves from the femininity because guys who show their “sensitive” emotions or thoughts will be ridiculed for being feminine.

    This isn’t fair to both boys and girls because it devalues femininity which leads to sexism for girls (since girls are expected to be feminine). Additionally, this causes problems for males because they will have to live up to the “superior” ideal of masculinity and if they don’t, the will be considered feminine or female-like. In other words, a sissy.

    I think identity-building has a big root in the reason why some people find blatant sexism acceptable. Such as female characters always having to be the one rescued, females characters usually having to look sexually attractive in movies/games, and even in school, not just online. In my graphic engineering class, mostly dominated by men, a guy needed help and the teacher assigned a girl to aid him. One guy sitting next to him said, “haha you need help from a girl.” What was most disturbing was the girl was right in front of him, including another girl, me, who was sitting next to him.

    Since, I’m a female, I have to acknowledge that I can’t completely form a guy’s perspective, but I will try tie up my ideas to geek culture. Because males, at a very earlier age, are pressured by society to be strong and powerful, geeks males try to find ways to make themselves live up to that ideal. Some find answers in putting-down geek females online – saying things like “females stink at (this or that),” attempting to build up their sense of worth, and the pride of being a male. Other ways they can make themselves look stronger (than women) is to insult other males by calling them “you’re a women!” I’ve witnessed this in my engineering class and in online games/forums. Sometimes I question why I let myself be exposed to this kinds of blatant disrespect, but I love gaming and if girl geeks are to be accepted into the gaming culture, we have to show we are strong by brushing off slurs like these.

    Although the gaming culture does show many forms of sexism towards women, I think that people are becoming more and more tolerant of female gamers and females as a whole. Most tolerant people are older and mature. The many friends I’ve met through gaming respect me as they do the other males, the ones that don’t respect me are usually the ones who don’t have respect for most other people – their parents, themselves and even their friends. However, there are males and females who just disrespect women period, and those are the people who’s opinion don’t matter because their opinions are just full of hatred and no reason behind it.

    I don’t think it’s a question of why geeks don’t accept girl geeks. It has more to do with the complexity of how people find their identities. I see girl geeks almost as if they were the tomboys of the internet/media. Girls aren’t being bashed for being geeks, they are being bashed for being a girl and the privilege that they can be feminine (and even masculine) and not be ridiculed for it, and since you can say anything on the net, some geeks will say anything to feel more big and superior. That’s just human nature. But of course, it’s not a right or just excuse in the treatment of women.

    In order for both genders to become more tolerant of the other, we have to stop treating females and males like they are totally different. We act like we are all either pink or blue, why can’t we be green, somewhere in the middle? When I grew up as a child I thought I was the same as a guy apart from physical characteristics and sexuality. I had to steadily learn that society did not view females in society (including the geek culture) in the same way they did men. I thought that I was a guy in a woman’s body when really, it was society that was distorted. Today, there is no doubt I’m a women and my boyfriend is pretty sure I’m a women even though I may “act like” a geek sometimes. Society acts like femininity is only acceptable to women, while masculinity is more valued in society from both genders. It is ridiculous.

    P.S: Even though I spent a great deal of time reading everything above and writing this, I’m glad I did because it organized thoughts and gave me new insights, and I hope it helps other girls or guys who are looking for answers.

  24. Jason Tocci Says:

    Thanks for the response, Enn. I don’t have much to add directly, but I’m glad to have your considered take here, and I’m inclined to agree with the conclusion that some relaxing or breaking down of gender expectations could be a good thing for geeks and for American culture in general.

  25. Jason Tocci Says:

    For those who are still showing up to this page and following the comments here: There’s an interesting response to this post (informed by personal experience) at From Austin to A&M.

    This post represents my second-most-visited page on Geek Studies (after the Geeks vs. Nerds page), but doesn’t really represent my most up-to-date thoughts on the subject in an easily digestible format. I’m hoping to have some time to write a follow-up shortly, based more on what actually made it into the dissertation. If you’re interested in reading the relevant portion of the dissertation to give me feedback before I adapt it for this blog (and, hopefully, a book manuscript), feel free to email me at jason@geekstudies.org.

  26. Restructure! Says:

    Interesting post. I wish I knew about your site earlier.

    Recently, I wrote a post about a similar topic, but with a different permutation of the male geeks, misogyny, and male jocks relationship: Male geeks reclaim masculinity at the expense of female geeks.

  27. Restructure! Says:

    Sorry, that link was broken. Corrected link: Male geeks reclaim masculinity at the expense of female geeks.

  28. Jason Tocci Says:

    Thanks for the relevant link. I’ll suggest that readers go check it out themselves for the spirited discussion already underway in the comments there.

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