As long as I can remember, I have always been in love with my geeky/nerdy community, not as just that most of the folks I get to meet are amazing ppl and possess so much knowledge (i have to admit that glasses, passion about literature and all is a huge turn on for me). But at times it happens that ppl get intimidated by me as I am a strong woman of colour who has been involved in social justice activism in my community. So first what do I do about it? I mean how should I tell that person that I like them and all and I would want to know them without them being way scared of me or something.
The second thing is my activism is a huge part of my life, I believe they are the principles which define me and what I stand for. For example, even if I find someone attractive (as they just blow my mind away with their nerdiness – dont know if its even a word), I get turned off if they end up saying anything which is remotely problematic. After that, all that fuzzy feeling and romantic flirting and all goes out the window. I like to argue my point as much as the next person, but it breaks my heart that my nerdy boy community is very white and straight and doesnt understand how and where a woman of colour fits into it.
To start with your first question: you have a problem that’s actually surprisingly common with nerd girls. In fact, I’m willing to predict that a lot of the women who read the blog will chime in with “Yes, that happens to me too!” in the comments. Being smart, confident and having interests that you’re passionate about should by all rights be instant plusses, especially in the geek community. And yet I hear this complaint frequently.
Now this issue can come in a number of ways. Sometimes it can be a case of dealing with men with self-esteem issues – they need to be the “top” in the relationship in all things in order to reaffirm their masculinity and a woman who doesn’t “need” a man represents a threat to the way he perceives gender roles. Side note: these are generally not worth dating in the first place, so if they’re intimidated by you, it’s no great loss. Sometimes it’s a case – and you’ll find this frequently in nerd circles where males tend to be socially inexperienced – where they’re intimidated not so much by someone’s aggression but by their own sexual desire. The woman in this case perceived as the sexual or romantic “gatekeeper” and it’s that power which intimidates guys, especially if they’re a tad on the submissive side of things.
And in the interest of fairness, there are indeed times where it’s the woman’s fault. Sometimes what she might see as “strong and aggressive” behavior others see as “pushy and domineering,” “abrasive and rude,” or “Controlling, selfish and manipulative” regardless of gender.
It’s hard to say without watching you in action, so you need to be your own judge in this.
Do you come on strong with the guys you like? Some guys – again, especially the socially inexperienced or those who are submissive – can feel cornered easily. Nerds can be timid beasts at times. You say you like to debate, which may be the problem; guys may be mistaking an active and passionate discussion for a fight. You see an exchange of ideas, they see an angry woman telling them they’re wrong.
Ever watch a forum thread on Star Trek vs. Star Wars? Mac vs. PC? Xbox vs. Playstation? Tennant vs. Eckleston? Nerd discussions can get pretty heated. When it’s a debate with someone they might want to sleep with… well, things can get all kinds of confusing.
The guys you may be afraid that every discussion is going to be an argument – or at least heated – and they feel as though they have to walk on eggshells around you. . The social stereotype of the “Angry Black Woman” may be rearing it’s head here because as much as I love my nerd brothers and sisters, we have to admit that they are as prone to inadvertent stereotypes and beliefs regarding race and gender as anyone else. Sometimes a little more, because we as a group like to think that we’re an egalitarian meritocracy… despite evidence to the contrary.
Which brings us, in a round-about way, to the second part of your question.
Passion and principles are great things to have… right up until they start getting in your way. It’s great that you’re passionate about social justice and that it informs your life but if a guy saying anything remotely problematic is enough to kill your attraction to him, I think you have may be setting yourself up for disappointment.
As you said: the nerd community is very male, very straight and very white. To be sure, it’s growing more diverse at a greater rate now than it has in, well, ever, but the fact remains that yes, we’re a fairly homogenous bunch.
This means, in effect, that you’re going to run into people who say things that are problematic or even racially tinged without being aware of how it might be construed. There will be plenty of nerds and geeks who aren’t racist or sexist in the abstract, but who’ve also had limited contact with people of color or social experience in general. As a result… well, they may be holding onto attitudes or behaviors that they don’t realize are racially, sexually or socially insensitive. They mean well, but that doesn’t stop ’em from shoving a foot or two in their mouth whether they realize it or not. Other times they may well cross a line without meaning to, or without realizing that there’s a line there in the first place.
As a result: yeah, dudes are gonna say stupid shit around you without meaning to offend you or even realizing that it could offend you. I’ve watched two friends – Lance, who was white and Jack who was black, and both names changed to protect me – get into an argument over the fact that Lance had told Jack “Every boy needs a hobby.” Up until that point I hadn’t realized that “boy” would be offensive to African-American men, and I don’t think Lance did either.1
As I’ve said before: “Never attribute to malice what might be equally attributable to ignorance.”
People are gonna say offensive things out of ignorance. How they react when it’s pointed out to them is the true test of who they are. I think you may be too quick to cut off all warm and fuzzy feelings for a guy who says something you might find remotely problematic, as you say, especially if they’re otherwise hitting all of your attraction switches. Sometimes people need someone to point out – diplomatically; nerds can be a defensive bunch – that they’ve made a faux pas without realizing it. If the only real problem is that this guy has a few rough edges on him, then mightn’t it be worth taking the time to give him a little polish? Think about it. I think you may be missing out on what could be a wonderful relationship if someone took the time to point out what he said and why it’s problematic.
And in general, for my intimidatingly smart and strong female nerd friends… it can be tough. Sometimes guys may feel like you’re putting up a wall or keep them at arm’s length. Sometimes they may feel as though you don’t need them. I recommend a trick that I tell guys to use: show a little strategic vulnerability. Being the one person “allowed” to see that gap in one’s armor is intoxicating stuff.
To be sure, finding a guy who’s secure enough not to be intimidated by you can be difficult, but it’s worth the search.
- Jack pointed out, gently and jokingly, that Lance had inadvertently called him “boy”. Lance’s immediate response was, essentially, “Fuck you for saying I’m racist!”, and then the shit, as they say, hit the fan. [↩]