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Archive for December, 2012

I’m dipping my foot in the forbidden pool for the first time here, thinking about words and how they define things, whole sets of things actually, and how we decide what they define and through these definitions try to shape reality. The words geek and nerd have become fairly powerful in society since the first time I encountered them, and if you add the word “culture” after these words it opens up a whole world of possibilities for both pleasure and power. In mainstream society, this feels like fairly new ground, the aspect of power in geek culture. There have always been internal dynamics of power in the world of geeks. Geeks who were admired by other geeks, geeks who created, gamed, wrote and socialized more successfully. Geeks who wanted to separate the words “nerd” and “geek” from each other, so as to make the first cooler than the second, to clearer create an elite in a subculture they belonged to (and perhaps were a bit embarrassed by, hence the urge to separate two words meaning virtually the same thing). I think I first encountered this phenomena in Star Trek fandom, which, if I have to be honest I never truly belonged to. I started watching Star Trek fairly late, somewhere in the mid 90’s, and even though I greatly enjoyed it, and can say that I today have great knowledge of the shows and universe, I’ve still never belonged to any passionate group of fans. Back in the 90’s I had an acquaintance  who was (and still is I presume) something of a Star Trek scholar, and she took great pains to explain the difference between a Trekkie and a Trekker, and that the latter was supposed to be representing  “mature” and intellectual Star Trek fans who weren’t embarrassing. So basically Trekkers were supposed to be nerds, as opposed to the geeky Trekkies. Something with these definitions felt like a forced construction to me even back then, but as I was standing and watching the phenomena from the outside, I couldn’t define it very well. I’m still not sure I can, but after more than a decade, I should at least try.

Geek culture to me, has always been about people with alternative passions and tastes who share them with each other and enrich each others’ lives by making geeky activities creative and social. Even if those activities take place on line or just between a small group. Since geeks often see themselves as outsiders, often misunderstood and neglected by mainstream culture, it can become deeply paradoxical when geek culture at the same time starts to exclude and divide within its own ranks. I would love to be able to say that geek culture is open minded and more progressive than other cultural manifestations, but that would sadly be a lie. There have always been power aspects and elitism in geek culture, like any other segment of society, and perhaps because geek culture is often seen by its members as a fringe group, composed of outsiders, the exclusion of certain parts of the group can seem extra jarring.

As a long time geek female, I have some experience of various aspects and groups of geekhood, and in the groups I have frequented there were always girls and women and they were always a very active part of most happenings. It therefore baffles me whenever I read an article such as tumblr_malemcaqGc1r3r0x4o1_500 this one in The Good Men Project, by Harris O’ Malley. This article talks about Nerds and male privilege, and while it does a decent job of pinpointing some subcultural sexism, it still launches its point of view from a place where there barely are any females at all in geek culture. To a girl who bought comics, gamed, went to conventions and frequented Larps among many other things, with many other females…this article is a bit surreal. Kind of like holding multi-gender art exhibitions most of your life with your group of artist buddies, only to have  several art critics saying that there barely are any female artists out there, and that it is so refreshing that there are at least a few.

How it feels to belong to a culture where you sometimes don’t exist? Any woman will tell you that it feels surreal, probably in the same way (and maybe even less so) than any other minority may feel in a cultural setting that they love, but often are fairly invisible in.

So, I learned that there really are male exclusive gamer/scifi-fandom/larper/comic enthusiast/whathaveyou groups out there, even though I, honest to god, have never encountered them in real life myself. I did however encounter them on the internet, as internet geeks started to have louder voices, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Some male gamers told me that I was one of those “female gamer mascots”, which apparently means a “tolerably good looking” female who uses her femininity to score points with a male gaming group. I was flabbergasted. Not only had I never encountered this phenomena they accused me of, the accusations came from people who had never met me and knew literally nothing about me. (I made the mistake of having an icon with a real picture of myself while discussing gaming on a forum, back in the day) It did not help that I told these guys that I was married and that my husband wasn’t a gamer at all, I was already solidly typecasted by several male gamers on this forum…and I started to look around and noticed that there really weren’t that many other female members in that place.

But just because female geeks are less noticeable in some places, does not mean that they don’t exist. On the contrary, recent research has shown that 50% of all gamers are female. And when you walk around most conventions, these statistics could easily be just as true there. The entire phenomena of fanfiction, which is mostly driven by females, and mostly about shows and films taken from geek culture, is evidence that female geeks are everywhere and have been so for a long time, they have just chosen to keep a low profile in such places where they are an “invisible” and perhaps unwanted group. It is perfectly possible to enjoy and take part in a culture, without being much seen, as history has shown over and over with all kinds of groups.

While mainstream culture adopting and piggybacking upon certain parts of geek culture, making it broader and visible to bigger groups, may be a source of sorrow for the geek (or nerd) hipsters, for women and other even more invisible geek sub-groups, this is mostly a good thing. Broader availability to geek culture makes it less “special” to be a geek. It’s nothing terribly unique to simply play a game or follow various tv shows. It is your passion about it, and the beauty of your attitude which makes you worthy of the title geek. And a passionate geek with a beautiful attitude does not exclude. He or she is not bitter and does not invest their own self worth in a sense of elitism from knowing subcultural facts. On the contrary, they play, they expand, discuss and always try to share and spread the awesomeness.

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