Geeks, you have a problem

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, June 19, 2012 9:30 EDT
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So, I’m sure many of you have seen this image going around:

This image drew out my most head-patting, condescending side, I must admit. It’s just so cute when delusion reaches these levels. Now, I’ve got a toe in some geek stuff, but mostly I watch the culture from the outside, and I have to say, from an outside perspective, it actually looks like geek culture has allowed a form of entrenched and vicious misogyny to flourish. It’s not the majority or anything like that, but there’s a loud minority of geek men who have a hate-on for women that’s so grotesque that it often gets to fundamentalist Christianity levels. And it spills over into the rest of geek culture, allowing other geek dudes to congratulate themselves loudly for their non-sexism, even if they’re really still reaffirming a ton of sexist messages. This image is a good example. That’s Lady Gaga on the right, and it seems that the main crime she’s committed to keep her from being a good role model is Teh Sexy. Lady Gaga is an accomplished songwriter and musician who, even if you don’t really like her music that much, nonetheless has to be admired for her ability to push people’s buttons and push boundaries while selling epic numbers of records doing it. She’s a great role model, because she models how to exert control over your career and develop a vision, refusing to apologize for it the whole way. Pushing that all aside because she occasionally wears skimpy costumes suggests that a woman’s sexuality trumps all other considerations when determining if she’s a good person. That’s messed up, but I’m going to guess the guy who made this thinks he’s pushing back against sexism.

It’s also a good example of the fallacy of cherry-picking, as demonstrated by the rebuttal I found here

The timing of the original image couldn’t have been worse, to the point where I kind of wonder if it was made in a defensive posture to remind people that not all of geek culture is misogynist in midst of a bunch of public, outrageous battles within that culture over misogyny and feminism. A sampling:

1) Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency starts a Kickstarter page to drum up money for a documentary about sexism in video games. She hasn’t even made the video yet, but a sea of angry geeks don’t need to actually hear her opinion before they denounce it, and so they have mounted an elaborate and mind-bogglingly vicious harassment campaign against her in an attempt to prevent the video from getting made. I don’t need to dwell on the details, which can be read at the link if you aren’t already familiar with the story. The point is that a bunch of dudes are so utterly attached to the sexist imagery in some video games that they will try to squash anyone who offers a critique of it.

2) Speaking of which, there’s a very concerning development in the Tomb Raider series involving the threat of rape of Lara Croft. Alyssa has a rundown of why this is probably not so awesome here, a rundown which caused—invariably—the nasty assholes to come out of the woodwork to fap to the idea of Lara Croft getting raped. This understandably unnerved Alyssa, and her response to it brought out the even more maddening group of men “concerned” that she takes this sexism thing and this violence against women thing too seriously, and wouldn’t she just be a lot more adorbs if she could shut up about it and stop ruining their good time? The good news is the whole thing brought out this thoughtful comment from one of Alyssa’s readers on just why it is that this group of hard core misogynists find geek culture a good place to hang out, which is they can dress up their misogyny in the clothes of the misunderstood outsider instead of actually have to confront the fact that they’re pigs.  

3) Even though women are half of gamers now and that means the marketing strategies like “booth babes” that assume that the customer base is all a bunch of 16-year-old boys are outdated and need to go, a lot of men in the industry are acting like you’re killing their children when you suggest they use marketing strategies that are less objectifying and more female-friendly

4) One reason “booth babes” are so offensive is their presence reinforces the notion that women, especially hot women, are for ogling and not for treating like peers. This attitude came out when Aisha Tyler was chosen to be Ubisoft’s presenter at E3, drawing out a sea of haterade that was based on the premise that Tyler, by virtue of being a pretty lady, couldn’t actually be a person who plays video games. She responded in an open letter on Facebook, and it’s become an internet sensation in no small part because a lot of women are fucking sick of gamer dudes constantly telling them that women are nothing more than holes to fuck, and certainly can’t be legitimate gamers.

5) Let’s not forget the ongoing battles over sexual harassment at geek-intensive skeptics events. It appears that women who speak out against sexual harassment with an eye towards making the conferences better and more fun for everyone can expect to be dismissed, minimized, and even directly lied about at Psychology Today.  Apparently, a whole lot of people would far rather preserve their right to be hostile to the few women who show up at their events rather than create an atmosphere where more women show up and actual fun is had. 

6) And let’s not forget the esteemed Dr. Nerdlove, a fighting feminist ally of an advice columnist who gets buried under a sea of entitled whining from angry dudes every time he dare suggest that men who actually want to have sexy times with women might start by not being a huge fucking creep. There are just a bunch of loud-mouthed geeky dudes who, given the choice between being hostile to women and creating opportunities that might involve fun with women, will pick the former every time. 

Now, this isn’t an indictment of geek culture generally. There are a ton of great, feminist folks in geek culture. In fact, they’re the primary victims of this hoarde of misogynist pricks; most of the sexism in geek culture is geek-on-geek crime. Women who are outside of it aren’t the ones who are getting called names during online games, being marginalized by sexual objectification, being harassed because they ask for a more female-inclusive culture, and assumed to not be “real” geeks because they’re ladies. It’s geek women that are getting this shit. And there are also a ton of outstanding male allies, many of whom are linked in this post, that are pushing back against their less enlightened brethern. But the self-congratulatory assumption that geek culture is a safe, pro-feminist space for women simply crumples when you look at the facts. Geek culture has a lot of the same problems as other male-dominated subcultures, like sports fandom or many music scenes. But to make it worse, the butthurt that erupts when you point it out seems much worse, in part because a lot of sexist geek dudes are so used to seeing themselves as the oppressed ones that they can’t admit that they’re actually bullies themselves when it comes to women. In fact, I expect this post will get a lot of that rage, especially as I’m someone who is somewhat outside of geek culture, so I expect the claim will be that I’m pulling a mean-girl act and kicking the poor, oppressed nerds around. But don’t believe the hype; this is about defending people who actually want to be part of geek culture but find themselves marginalized just because of their gender. 

Also, I’m sorry, but while Twilight sucks, you can’t just pretend it’s not part of the geek spectrum. Dude, it’s about vampires. 

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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