Sexism in Nerdom: Can a Geek Be a Girl?

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By Marie Frankson
Campus News
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As a young woman who enjoys to partake in “geeky” ventures of reading comic books, playing video games, collecting cards and models, and watching science-fiction and fantasy movies and reading books in those genres, who enjoys cosplay, and whose flash drive looks like Captain Kirk from “Star Trek,” I find the amount of misogyny in geek culture abhorrent. What was once a “boys only” club no longer is, and many women are coming out of the woodwork to show their love for things that are considered geeky. However, those women are met with contempt from their male counterparts and are often the victims of malicious cyberbullying attacks in online forums or on massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs). Guess what? Women have always been involved in geeky things, this isn’t anything new, and neither is the misogyny. Someone reading this might say that “boys will be boys” or that if women don’t want to be harassed because of their interests then they shouldn’t be in the public eye with those interests. Nearly every geeky girl faces some form of misogyny, and there is nothing good about misogyny. If one does a Google search of “misogyny in geek culture” you’ll see hit after hit of articles and personal stories.

For those readers who are unaware of the meaning, misogyny is the hatred or dislike of women and girls. According to feminist theories, misogyny can be manifested in numerous ways, including sexual discrimination, violence against women, sexual harassment, and sexual objectification.

Geek culture is now more mainstream than ever before. Computer enthusiasts are practically worshipped for their know-how, everyone uses Facebook or some other social networking site, and blockbusters at the box office are superhero and other sci-fi movies. It isn’t easy seeing a fringe identity, which is important to you, expand and become widely accepted to a public who doesn’t care as much about the material as you do. A commonality among those considered to be geeks was that they were, at one point in time, socially ridiculed or excluded from groups or events because of their infatuation with their interests. Now, it seems, a commonality among those considered to be geeks is excluding others from their group. That realization raises a few questions: why is it that women are always the ones being excluded from the prestigious geek group? When was the last time you saw people arguing over whether a particular man is a “real geek”? In these times of change, why is sexual objectification so prevalent in geek culture?

I can answer two of these three questions. “Why is it that women are always the ones being excluded from the prestigious geek group?” There is an idea, a rumor, that women are only playing games just for attention. After all, women have no interest in video games or things like “Magic the Gathering” and “Warhammer” and comic books. The idea that women can’t have interests in things that are deemed geeky is, to be frank, stupid; but what do I know? I just read comic books, watch “Star Trek” and other sci-fi shows, play video games, and play “Magic the Gathering” once in a while. To me, this is similar to women who join men’s sports — the men feel intimidated that a woman, or women, is/are coming onto their turf so they retaliate in a way that would hurt her/them the most. Speaking from experience, women are social creatures and men know this; one way to attempt to get a woman to back off is to exclude her from groups or events. Exclusion, the feeling that no one wants you and that you don’t belong in a group, hurts.

“In these times of change, why is sexual objectification so prevalent in geek culture?” Well, I am going to assume that everyone reading this has seen a comic book or superhero movie. What do the women look like? Do they look like the geeky girl sitting in the back of the classroom or do they have long hair, size DD breasts, and wear spandex or leather outfits? It’s the latter. Sure, women like Wonder Woman and Super Girl kick major villain butt, but they are sexual beings first and super heroines second. How many super heroines have you seen that have glasses, wear yoga pants and sneakers and sweatshirts with the hood up to hide their hair during a bad hair day? None. Not even an average guy wants to fantasize about an average girl. Thus, booth babes. Those women are models, they’re not average women. It’s the same ploy that beer commercials use — if I drink this beer, I’ll get a hot woman. If I buy this video game console, I’ll get a hot woman. Even my nine-year-old brother knows that’s not true and pointed out to me while flipping through a book about the DC and Marvel superheroes that all the women look alike except for their hair color and outfits. If a nine-year-old knows that real women don’t look like women portrayed in comic books then WHERE ARE THE REAL WOMEN?! If we as a population want the children of the world looking up to people, shouldn’t we want them to look up to real men and women?

I mentioned MMORPG games and women being harassed. Well, that happens in other gaming communities as well. Take the fighting game community, or FGC for short, for example. Back in February, Capcom hosted “Cross Assault,” a reality show featuring gamers in the fighting community —this particular episode was a promotion for “Street Fighter X Tekken.” Competitive fighting game player Aris Bakhtanians was quoted as saying, “This is a community that’s, you know, 15 or 20 years old, and the sexual harassment is part of a culture, and if you remove that from the fighting game community, it’s not the fighting game community.” Bakhtanians and Jared Rea, another competitive fighting game player, were going back and forth about misogyny in the FGC. Rea was quoted as saying, “When I go to SoCal regionals and I see a Phoenix [from Marvel vs. Capcom 3] on main stage getting blown up and there’s some dude in the audience just yelling “Bitch! Bitch!” every time she gets hit and then she[‘s] killed and goes “Yeah, rape that bitch!” Yeah, that’s totally acceptable! Really? Really? You’re going to tell me that’s acceptable?” to which Bakhtanians replied, “Look, man. What is unacceptable about that? There’s nothing unacceptable about that. These are people, we’re in America, man, this isn’t North Korea. We can say what we want. People get emotional.” There was a female competitor there, Miranda “Super_Yan” Pakozdi, who was assigned to work with Bakhtanians as part of Team Tekken and, upon hearing his comments, said that his comments as well as those of other men in the community like him hurt the community. During day six of “Cross Assault,” Pakozdi doesn’t even attack while she is playing. She just leans forward on the stick. Per the rules of the show, she would have to go up against another player who was already eliminated. If the other player beat her three out of five times, he would be able to go back into the competition. Instead, Pakozdi forfeited. It’s so crazy to me that someone would believe that sexism and misogyny are so integral to the way they interact with others that if it was taken away it would change the nature of the community and make it worse, as Bakhtanians has implied.

Misogyny isn’t just limited to video games. Jackie Lee, the only woman on the top 100 “Magic the Gathering” players worldwide list, was subject to sexism and misogyny in April 2012 during a televised “Wizards of the Coast” tournament once she had reached the semi-final round. Comments ranging from “Get back in the kitchen” to commenting about how “bangable” she looked to openly stating one’s intentions to masturbate to her to even being threatened with rape were hurled at her, and even worse, Lee didn’t know who was saying what as the comments were anonymous.

Actions like those above within the gaming community should surprise many people, men and women alike, but they do not. How many rape jokes do you come across on the internet and disregard? How many women do you see who post something online and then a comment saying “Get in the kitchen and make me a sandwich” is directly underneath? How many times do you call out the person for making those jokes and comments?

Why are we seeing so much misogyny in the geek community now? One reason is because of the internet. People can communicate faster than they used to and due to the anonymous nature of the internet you don’t know who is posting what. A person who acts like an entitled jerk on the internet may not act like that in real life, but they can say whatever they want from behind their computer. However, why it happens in the first place isn’t a secret. From the start, collections and hobbies that comprise geek culture have been traditionally male dominated, but not by just any males, the males who typically were not part of the popular crowd in school, and those who also tended to have poor social skills. Couple those with how women were traditionally portrayed in comics, science-fiction, and fantasy — you have the damsel in distress who waits for the manly hero, riding a horse bareback and bare-chested, to come and save her, or you have the kick-ass female who makes up for poor character development with skimpy, over-sexualized outfits, thus making them strictly sexual objects who fight a bad guy every once in a while. Your average woman is not going to feel welcome in most geek settings because of this, and this had led to women involved in geek culture being treated as rare as Big Foot, or unicorns, or any other mythical being you can think of. These days, you have women who are making their mark in geek culture, as I’ve mentioned a few in previous paragraphs, and here you have the seed of the misogyny in this culture. This was the boys’ only club for so long and now the women are showing up and expecting they be treated as people (how dare they?!), and a lot of guys feels threatened about this and don’t know how to deal with it and so they lash out against those very women.

Misogyny is all about power, and the men employing it want to make the women do what they want and are using what they perceive to be the best tools for it. The point of this is that the geek culture has a bad habit of objectifying women. The end result is that you do not see them as people, and this can make it way too easy to treat them horribly.

What can be done to combat misogyny in geek culture? Speak up. When you see someone make misogynistic comments you should call them out on it. People feel a sense of entitlement when they make these comments and no one wants it pointed out to them that they were in the wrong. Especially for the guys, something you can do is take a look at your comments. If you wouldn’t want someone saying that to you, then don’t post it. Treat others how you want to be treated, even on the internet where no one knows you. Remember that the people you are dealing with online, at a convention, or at a comic book shop are real people and have feelings that can be hurt.

My point is that this needs to stop. All of it. Women are people too, and we can be geeks as well. Don’t get “butt-hurt” when someone calls you out and says you shouldn’t have said something that you did. Just make an attempt to be a half-way decent person both in real life and while you’re playing your games and whatnot. This has been my public service announcement…it’s NOT okay!

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