Saying 'That Sucks' Isn't Enough

So it seemed as though one of the prevailing themes on the interwebs this week was "most lady nerds are not enormous posers,  but they frequently get treated as though they are and that sucks." This in itself is nothing particularly new, as the concept of misogyny in geek culture has been discussed and analyzed and re-discussed by media ranging from this little blog to the New York Times over the course of the past few years. So why was this week different? The very interesting differential in the goings on that you may have borne witness to was the concerted effort by male nerds/geeks to add their voices to the discourse.

The most prominent and widely circulated instance of this was the music video for "Nothing to Prove" by the Doubleclicks (which, technically, has been out for a little while now, but went viral this week when it hit The overarching message of the video is excellent: we female nerds/geeks have been around as long as, and have as much experience as, our male counterparts and we shouldn't be subjected to bullshit interrogations and general cruelty in order to gain legitimacy. It's a whole bunch of "I love [insert traditionally nerdy arena here], am confident in my identity as a geek/nerd, and I'll be damned if your insecurities factor into how I define myself."

The video features both a myriad of nerdy girls making that very proclamation in their own words and a handful of well known geeky guys making shows of support. Awesome. Not gonna lie, a big part of me wanted to jump in with my own little handmade sign.

While the fact that this video is garnering so much attention is incredibly positive, there is a moment therein that gave me pause and think no, wait...that's not true

Around 2:14 we see the message "There are no Fake Geeks...Only Real Jerks." And, while the sentiment there is certainly nice, the message is ultimately false. The idea the Doubleclicks want to instill in their audience is partially akin to what we talked about last October: that the nerdy learning curve can be fairly steep and would-be geeky neophytes shouldn't be driven away from our ranks because they're just beginning that ascent. This is true, but it's drastically oversimplifying things to say that's the case across the board and that blunt rejection of reality can actually make the current situation worse.Yes, there are tons of thoroughly well-practiced and well-read lady nerds/geeks. Yes, there are people of all genders seeking to learn more about our subculture. Yes, there are fake nerds/geeks.

Here's the thing though, this phenomenon of an individual pretending to be a member of a given group in order to gain acceptance/a self esteem boost/social access/attention is neither new, nor is it confined to Geekdom. Furthermore, this practice will likely persist no matter how vigorously the Inquisitors of True Geekdom ply their trade. 

Two critical notes on these posers: 
  •          They are almost certainly a very small percentage of the population at large AND
  •          They manifest in all genders. 
 As such, the baseline for interaction should be that posers are the exception, not the rule

The unfortunate reality of the situation is that the notion of being a poser has become genderized. You can see the same sorts of attitudes surrounding female fans of a given sports team. You may recall a mention a few months back that I hail from the Boston area, a locale renowned for its impassioned supporters of our home sporting franchises. The term used out here for a person pretending to be more knowledgeable in local team lore or fundamental sports mechanics is a Pinkhat. The etymology stems from the late 1990s to early 2000s when the Red Sox emerged from several consecutive dour seasons to become a serious playoff contender (eventually winning the World Series in 2004). As the team racked up wins, they garnered more attention which, in turn, translated into more opportunities in which to sell merchandise. Said items that began to hit store shelves tended to be gaudy monstrosities that were barely recognizable as team apparel which, you'd correctly guess by the term in question, were primarily designed for women. The influx of bandwagon fans, many of whom took to wearing the aforementioned monstrosities, drew the ire of those diehard Sox lovers who stuck by the team through thick and thin. The correlation was the inspiration for the term Pinkhat which, to this day, is one of the more potent insults you can throw someone's way while in New England. Ostensibly, the term carries certain gender-specific connotations, though any newcomers will be scrutinized if they attempt to show off their Boston teams prowess.

"Fake Geek/Nerd" has taken on the same sort of implication, and that needs to change. Part of the solution is drawing attention to the fact that yes, there is a problem. However, the format in which the issue gets "called out" matters quite a bit. On Monday, game designer/author Peter Woodworth wrote this extensive breakdown of the current situation. While he admits most of what he's writing is nothing new, there are two critical pieces in his post that sets him apart from most of the commentary we've seen thus far: he admits that he'd engaged in "gatekeeping" behavior in the past (and regrets it to this day) and he calls on fellow nerds/geeks to take action.

The rarity with which commentators propose an actual course of action with which to combat misogyny in Geekdom isn't all that surprising. As we've discussed earlier, the commonality of social awkwardness is at least partially to blame here. For all the passion and contentiousness that surrounds our interactions (even beyond fake geek "testing"), the vast majority of nerds/geeks tend to avoid direct confrontation at all costs. This is why some of the worst instances of targeted hatred typically play out over the internet. This is also why the vast majority of the discussion concerning misogyny in Geekdom tends to be a whole lot of "This is happening and that sucks."

Saying "yeah I guess there's a problem; that sucks" isn't enough. It isn't close to enough. 

Wil Wheaton = spot on
We're at the point where recognizing there's an issue is no longer sufficient. This is our subculture and we need to take responsibility for it. Part of doing so will involve taking a long, hard look at ourselves and our respective groups of nerdy friends. We may think that we're above this now-politicized fracas, but we may actually be contributing to all this and have been too proud to recognize our behavior (or that of our friends) for what it is.

David Roberts composed this apology earlier this week in response to a non-nerdy, but highly genderized throwdown on Twitter. While that conflict doesn't tie directly into our topic, the Syndrome he creates to describe the attitudes and mindset that led to his offhanded sexism is highly translatable. The crux of said affliction is this:

We privileged dudes have trouble accepting that language is a social phenomenon, a social act, and meaning is created collectively, in the spaces between and among people. When you use language that is freighted with social meaning, you are responsible for that meaning, even if  you did not “intend” it.

He, like Woodworth, underscores the importance of taking mature, mindful action in response to his thoughts, words, and deeds. This can't possibly be understated. Incorporating this sort of reflection in at the ground level, with yourself and those closest to you, is the critical difference between white knighting and actually taking a stand.

It isn't realistic to think that we can give some much-needed reality checks to the entirety of Geekdom, but that doesn't mean we can afford to keep sitting around lamenting the situation. Instead, we need to look to ourselves and our social circles, to the people who can (hopefully) deal with something akin to, "Hey, what you said is not cool" or "You're not gaming with us again if you keep saying that/acting that way."

The solution, or at least the beginnings of one, is likely as simple as that. Small, but firm, rebuttals against the things we hear/say/type/do that we know are just plain wrong. Too often we sit by, hamstrung by groupthink and squeamish at the notion that a recent interaction is part of the problem but not actually doing anything about it. Our inaction is aiding and abetting the problem and we need to get our heads out of the sand.

On that note, I end with a quote from one of the best terrible movies of all time:

Now, we must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of good men.

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