On Being a Geek Girl
John Scalzi at Whatever pointed to this video and I’ve spent an enjoyable half hour watching and sharing it and thinking about it this morning.
I learned two things in my early teens: that I was a geek, and that it was not okay for a girl to be a geek. I will turn 47 in a little over a week, and here are some of the experiences I have had as a female geek:
- At age 12 I hid my Planet of the Apes book and my Battle for the Planet of the Apes novelization inside old covers from trashy romance novels. My mother otherwise confiscated the books.
- When I read the Hobbit at age 11 and Lord of the Rings at age 14, I had no one I could talk to about them.
- The minute I “got too old” for Wizard of Earthsea and A Wrinkle in Time and The Book of Three, there was a huge gap in my life and no one to help me figure out how to fill it.
- Every D&D group I have ever been in since I was 11 until about five years ago had some asshole who decided it was necessary to role play my character getting raped.
Every time I have ever gone into a store to buy a video game, from the time I was a young woman to now, the clerk has assumed I am buying it for someone else, and then when it was clear I wasn’t assumed I was a novice gamer.
- When I admit I like romances and science fiction and fantasy (sometimes mixed together) I’m criticized for not being a real geek.
- When I let my inner 14 year old boy out to play and enjoy un-feminist hack and slash or problematic SF and Fantasy I’m criticized for not being a good feminist.
- I stopped reading hard SF for over ten years because I was frustrated with it being so male dominated and male orientated.
In the last couple of years, a few notable male allies have stepped forward in the SF world to ease the way for us female geeks. John Scalzi, Jim C. Hines, and Wil Wheaton are dominant among them.
But the fact remains that SF and fantasy (but especially “hard” SF), gaming, and computer related careers as well as STEM careers are very female hostile. Women know this, too. Just this morning I ran across a study from the University of Washington that suggests that women don’t enter computer careers because of their association with geek culture.
It was a study of the effect of stereotypes, but I think also there was an unseen variable: that the stereotypes demonstrate a pattern of behavior that is actively hostile to women. Geek culture is not a female friendly space and never has been. Those of us who choose to navigate it fight the battles we can and take breaks when we can.
See this is the thing: Geek culture is a part of my identity, and so is feminism. Both of these identities are important part of building happiness in my life. When I “prescribe” happiness to others, this isn’t necessarily a part of the prescription, but it can be. And for that reason I speak out pretty regularly about how sexism and racism and other ‘isms in geek culture get in the way of female geeks and gay geeks and geeks of color.
It’s a big deal. Geek culture isn’t a boy’s club and never was — but there are those in the club who would like it to be. So sing it loud and sing it proud. We have nothing to prove. Geek girls: We are geeks and we are women.
What have your experiences been with ‘isms in geek culture?