Sunday, October 21, 2012

From Whence Misogyny In Geek Culture?

There's a good article up over at Shameless Magazine that explores misogyny in geek culture. The basic thesis is that geeks feel that women and pop culture are taking away geek culture. It's summed up in a later adumbration.
1. Straight White Dudes, we are not here to steal geek culture away from you - we’re here to help make it MORE AWESOME. 
2. Excluding people just because they’re not geeky enough, or bullying them because they’re female is just as bad as the isolation and bullying you may have experienced while growing up. If, as a geeky teenager, you hated and resented the kids who picked on you, why the hell would you turn around and do it to someone else?
I think that the author is missing the wellspring of the behavior and the reason why her arguments will fall upon deaf ears. Namely, geek culture has never been about acceptance, and it is not surprising that geeks have turned around and behaved identically to ways in which they themselves were treated. It's like the Pilgrims coming to America to escape religious persecution, when in fact they were coming to America so they could be free to be the ones doing the persecuting.

While geek culture has many elements, one of its unifiers was exclusion from popular culture. They were rejected, so they created a culture that was purposely separate. It was not a culture that was defined internally, but also externally. Geek culture requires something separate from it for it to be geek culture. If it becomes integrated into the wider culture, it loses one of its original bricks and is thus no longer geeky. This connotation is built into the very history of the word.

Similarly, geek culture was defined by rejection by women. The point of it was to happily accept that rejection and create a society where part of its very make-up was a lack of women. Geeks have been resistant to accepting pop culture and women because part of geek culture is not having these things.

Let's face it. Many of the people in geek culture are not attractive and have few social graces. It hurts to be that way. It hurts to be rejected sexually. When one's life is heavily influenced by sexual rejection, a safe haven will be sought. And once found, that safe haven only remains safe when the object of rejection, be it pop culture or sexuality, is specifically left out.

It doesn't matter if women entering geek culture are as "geeky" as the men already there. Their not being there is the point. They could never make the culture "more awesome." And when one considers the perspective of those within the sub-culture, this makes sense.

While this is a sympathetic viewpoint, it does not absolve them. Perhaps my own experience with the sting of rejection makes me appreciate their views more than some others. I have never been an object of desire and that sucks. Losing myself in a fantasy world always felt great.

Moreover, this doesn't absolve the community of its racism and homophobia, although I think that these elements are something much more easily expunged. I think that it has more to do with the fact that middle-to-upper class culture in America is dominated by white, cis-gendered people. the biases of that socio-economic group will obviously rub off on any fantasy worlds created by it. Since geek culture was not created by people who had previously been rejected by homosexuals and people of other races, accepting these people will be something that will happen quickly. Accepting them will not undermine a tenet of geekdom.

Does that mean that traditional geekdom will not transform? Of course not. Traditional geek areas like science fiction, fantasy, and games will expand into the general culture, and the language is what will fade. Just as art and filmmaking are no longer the domain of those who lived on the outskirts of polite society, we will stop calling fantasy, science, and games "geeky." The label will die.

Perhaps that's the ultimate point that people should be making: geek culture as it was once known is dying. Science fiction, Dungeons & Dragons, comic books, video games, and fantasy are in the mainstream. I don't begrudge these men for wanting to have something into which they can escape, and specifically something that is theirs, separate from the broader culture. But they must realize that the world of traditional sci-fi, fantasy, and games is no longer that world.


Anonymous said...

I appreciate the wounded sentiment that you're defending... but what do you think gives geeky men the right to cordon off an interest group as "male"? Fuck That! Nerd men have no right to claim ideas solely for penis-owners just because they got there first by dint of successfully enjoying the advantage conferred to them by the systematic denial of the full humanity of women and their subsequent exclusion from acknowledgement in the public sphere. If they want a woman-free space, why don't they own up to what they really are, misogynists, and occupy those clearly bigoted spaces rather than try to make up nonsense excuses for why nerdy interests are only legitimately held by the be-peened?

I'm female. I have a genius-level IQ, and I understand the social exclusion which that engenders. I've been rejected sexually too- but that part stopped as soon as I got the chip off my shoulder and understood that the world doesn't owe me a thing, If I want a sex partner, I can get one by improving my sexual desirability. I have always been somewhat-attractive, but that didn't matter if my personality was overwhelmingly negative and rooted in an entitlement I assumed was justified due to how really fucking bright I am. Thankfully, I quickly learned that nothing is uglier than a sense of superiority. If you arrogantly isolate yourself from most human beings, why would you expect anyone to like you? You are an ass that thinks something makes you more inherently more worthy of love than people who actually are able to have relationships that don't begin with the immediate labeling of the other as "inferior". Isolation won't disabuse anyone of this delusion. UGH!

Aaron Martin-Colby said...


I had been long intending to write a follow-up to this to cover these exact points.

My aim wasn't to absolve, justify, or otherwise attempt to excuse the way that these guys were acting. They are jerks through and through.

I do not think that they have the right to act like jerks, but I do think they have the right to create a group that is theirs -- to avoid contact with people they don't like. It’s like creating a club where only certain people are allowed. That’s fine if more than a little bit awful. What makes them jerks is that when others try to take these interests in other directions, they feel threatened, respond aggressively, and turn into an army of piss-ant online trolls.

You nail the issue on the head when you wrote “why don't they own up to what they really are, misogynists.” That is the exact point I was trying to make. The author of the original article was treating the men as though they have some quasi-legitimate fear of having their geek kingdom diluted and was addressing these concerns.

The men in question have no legitimate fears. They have anger and hatred of women, pure and simple. Arguing against the points that they are making is to miss what they are actually saying.

I provided the personal angle not to specifically elicit sympathy, but more to indicate that I know the behavior and understand the men involved, insofar as it is possible to understand such anger, because I have felt their emotions in the past. I understand the place from which their actions stem even though I myself never acted that way.

Moreover, and this is important, I am absolutely not discounting the feelings of other geeks. While I focused on the traditional cis-gendered male geek for this article, I did so because that is what the original article focused on. The geek world is filled with men and women of every gender orientation who all have experienced the sting of rejection, mockery, and exclusion.

Your second paragraph articulates this issue, where you have felt the sting, and grew into a state of self-awareness because of that sting. That is what we want of these men, but we cannot expect it. They are angry, upset, and irrational. I think to try and argue them into a state of emotional growth is a fool’s errand. We may as well try to argue with Neonazis.

So while isolation won’t disabuse these men of their problematic thoughts, arguing with them in rational terms won’t do much either. I think our best bet is to simply call them what they are, misogynists, and attack them every time they act up.