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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Is geek culture female friendly?

Echoing a question that Jezebel asked earlier this week: Is geek culture female friendly?

The answer, whatever it may be, goes well beyond whether there are lots of women at science fiction conventions (as was pointed out by commenters in this recent thread about how many men are astonished to learn that a woman likes science fiction). Women make up the majority of moviegoers, a larger majority than we are in the general population (as I noted in last week’s Week in Women column), but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Teh Movies are necessarily female friendly.
What attracted me to geek culture originally, when I was a kid, was certainly not female friendly. Girls and women were not much beyond tokens in the SF that I read or watched on TV or saw in the the movies, and that’s mostly still true today… though some in-roads are being made, particularly with shows such as Battlestar Galactica and Caprica. Still, women are no better represented in the genre than they are in the entertainment universe overall. The literature is a lot more inclusive than it was in the 1970s, but while videogaming may be enjoyed by lots of women, it’s also sadly lacking in representations of women (see: this bullsht excuse as to why there are no female soldiers in battle games).

And as for the fans themselves… there may be lots of women who are into geek stuff, and lots of women who attend SF conventions, but I’ve certainly encountered more than a few geek guys who still don’t value a woman’s opinion as much as they value a man’s, who will interrupt a woman who’s speaking but will let a man talk on, and so on. Not all men, of course, but the incidence of sexist, clueless jerks doesn’t seem to be much less among geeks than among the general population.

What do you think: Is geek culture female friendly?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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  • As the number of creators of geekery – comics, sci-fi pulp, fantasy novels, etc. – expanded to include women, I’d definitely say that it’s gotten female-friendlier.

    As best I recall my pop culture history studies, a lot of the early scifi/fantasy was dominated by male writers and artists, which tended to pander to male tastes (Dejah Thoris, anyone?). When the markets expanded in the 50s and 60s to include women creators like Le Guin (and even Trek pulp by Diane Duane), you saw some shifting to more gender-complex materials. The comics industry in particular over the last 15 years has seen more women as artists and writers, which is where I think more of the female-fan-friendlier stuff has been happening.

    I’d still say it’s 70/30 male/female orientation in the geek markets, but it’s getting there.

  • Sarah

    As a Late Gen X Geek Girl who’s hung out with geek boys ever since she found a critical mass of them in high school/college, and who’s been married to a geek for almost 10 years, I would say a “qualified yes”.

    Yes, because geek males worth knowing are more welcoming to/interested in an intelligent gal who gets their jokes, understands what he did at work/school that day, embraces/shares the social quirks that made their formative social lives miserable, and can match them zing for zing. Also Yes because of the trends in Geek Pop Culture mentioned above by Paul. Finally, the male/female ratio in geekdom is rather skewed, but more so these days because many younger girls hide their lights under bushels to fit in, and get sucked into conformity. That in turn makes the straight geek girl highly prized as a friend or companion in geek culture, at least to men with taste. (and is there any other kind of man worth knowing, geek or no?)

    Qualified because, well, let’s be blunt–even the best geek males can be diamonds in the rough into their late 20s. Guys mature slower than ladies as a rule, and geek guys even more so, for a variety of reasons. Many geeks of my acquaintance really don’t think they mastered adulthood until their late 20s. On the flip side, geek girls tend to mature at about the average speed, if not faster. Also, there are incurable male doofuses in every IQ bracket. I dunno if there are more of them in geekdom, so much as they don’t have the social know-how to keep it roped in at first. Of course, The definition of “geek” I use includes the ability to interact with a female on an equal plane, however awkwardly. Any guy worth knowing, geek or no, has learned or will swiftly learn this skill.

    I think geek girls have to make their own path in geek culture, and that sometimes there are obstacles or stupid misconceptions to be dealt with. However, I think as a rule the intelligent female has a MUCH harder time of it in ‘mundane’ society, and that the Geek subculture is getting more female-friendly by the day.

  • Lisa

    I dunno but most of my tv heroines come from “geek” culture – Scully, Starbuck, Ro Laren, etc

  • As someone who has been trying to make a go of it as a SF/F writer, I have to say yes. If I was the kind of guy who didn’t respect women’s professional opinions, I’d be in a world of hurt dealing with editors, agents, and fellow writers, given the numbers of them who are women. Sexism in the publishing world mostly comes from the sales guys, who are usually more interesting in the marketing side. You know, the sort of guys who cancel “Firefly” or are neutering the SF channel; they are not geeks.

    This is not to deny the clueless sexism on the part of some men mentioned above, but rather to point out the oppertunities for women in geek culture.

  • Ryan H

    I don’t think geek culture is particularly anybody friendly. In many ways it accepts all because it holds almost everything with the same level of self-critical disdain warring with obsessive love. To paraphrase Kevin Smith (badly and from faulty memory) geeks are the only people who will show up to a convention wearing a replica stormtrooper costume, run into a guy wearing a perfect Spock costume and deride him for being a fucking nerd with a straight face.

    You must be willing to defend your passions and in return you will be instantly accepted by anyone else who shares them. And if you can’t stand the heat you will not be very welcome.

  • Muzz

    I happened across this a while ago:

    It’s all about sexism at comic conventions. There was more crossblogging about it somewhere else, but I can’t remember where (some sites seem to have moved).
    I saw something similar about game conventions a few years back as well, but E3 has toned down their hollywood aspects for one.

    I’m not sure if it relates to the question specifically but the crux seems to be that if you get models dressed up in tight and minimal clothes whose job it is to be nice while putting up with lustful attention (or even encourage it), this environment gets at least a subset of males thinking it applies to every girl there is at the event. This we can state with some confidence. That then might discourage females from turning up and so forth.

    There was a bit of a dust up a while ago over at Scienceblogs and in the Skeptic-o-sphere in general over how male dominated and faintly boys club the whole thing can be, particularly at conferences and other get togethers (there was one set of talks in particular used to illustrate that the speakers were only talking to the men in the audience and making lad-ish jokes etc. I can’t remember which one. But these are old academics we’re talking about, not maladjusted fifteen year olds or whatever). From memory there was some overlap with debate amongst the female contingent over how brassy and crude (or, as I would term it: funny) and even underdressed some of the girls are and whether or not that was bad for females in skepticism etc etc. So that one’s still around too.

    It’s still very much a hot topic that will flare up from time to time, is all I’m saying.
    It’s hard to say for sure but much of geek culture strikes me as some of the worst encalves of male stupidity and the most alienating to women. That could be just because it’s what I know, but I think you’d have an easier time if you were a female metalhead or gearhead than sci-fi fan or whatever.

  • Lalina

    I find the geek culture to be female friendly, since the geeks I know treat women with respect. (I met most in my physics/computer science study) I like to discuss things like philosophy, science etc, and I love that geeky guys enjoy these things too. I love the ones that are very intelligent, since they make fun conversations. Even though geeky guys often seem to lack a more inituitive approach when dealing with women (some seem mildy autistic), they tend to be far more openminded than normal guys when you explain things, they take people as they are and they are not judgemental. They genuinely want to understand you, which I love, and also like it when you really want to understand them.
    I did find some have sexist ideas when it comes to women that dress sexy, wear make up etc are less intelligent than those that dress “nerdy”. I am however not suprised at this since often this stereotype is true. Half way the first year a lot of students quit the study because they find it has too much math. Typically the girls who quit are the ones who dress like the “popular girls”, make up, fixing their hair, sexy clothes. Since there are only a few girls who sign up for the study in the first place, people do tend to notice when some of them leave. But similarly, men that quit seem to follow a stereotype too, if they dont look nerdy, and dress like “popular guys”, or are into “gangsta rap” or something like that, they have a very good chance of quitting the study in the first year, while the geeky looking ones usually stay.
    Also outside the study, I found people often make assumptions by these stereotypes, people are much more suprised to find out you do physics as a girl that dresses up instead of as one that doesnt (ive been both.. though I like dressing up some days I am too lazy for it).
    So even though the stereotype sometimes can be annoying, I did not find it to be something that just happens around geeks.
    I do know now that when I start soliciting for a job, it works to look geeky, because people will assume you are smarter, which is a usefull thing to know.

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