Before I get into this, I want to address the title of today’s column which implies that geekdom is inherently male. That’s actually a deliberate choice, because while we’ve made serious improvements in increasing diversity over the years, the geek community tends to still conduct itself like it’s a men’s locker room.
The problem is simple. The way many geeks conduct themselves not only reinforces all the negative stereotypes about geeks (including ones that geeks perpetuate themselves – more on this in a bit) but it also chases women away. Not, mind you, just from the community, but from people as well. Let’s be honest: unless you’re an absolute sociopath, you ain’t compartmentalizing the way you act on Reddit from the way you act in the rest of your life. Angry, shouty neckbeard or manchild isn’t a good look on anyone, so why perpetuate it even further?
But hey, if appealing to your sense of community doesn’t work, I’m always willing to lead people by their balls instead, because these behaviors are like a magic trick: they make sex disappear. So let’s talk a little about those nerd behaviors that drive women away, so we can quit doing them…
Defining Yourself By What You Consume
Let’s start with one of the most obvious: when your identity is based on the things you consume rather than what you do. Now I’ll be the first to acknowledge the irony of this coming from someone who calls himself Dr. NerdLove but stick with me a second.
Ultimately, being a geek is about how you relate to the things you love. It’s not just that you watch sci-fi movies but how they inspire you to express how you love them. Maybe you’ll cosplay as the characters. Maybe it inspires you to write your own sci fi epic. Regardless, it’s about the interaction and pursuits of your passions, not just the act of consuming it. One of the biggest mistakes geeks and nerds make is in the way they have a tendency to make their consumption part of their identity. It becomes a major touchstone of who they are; they don’t just play games, they are a gamer. Sometimes it goes even further – they’re not just a gamer, they’re one of the Glorious PC Gaming Master Race, rather than one of those dirty console peasants.
You have your otaku, your grognards, your Marvel zombies, your hard SF-fans, your Twihards, your Bronies, your whatever-the-hell-Steven-Universe-fans-call-themselves. While it’s one thing to be a fan of something – even a devoted fan – it’s another when your identity is all about what you consume.
Thing is though: consuming something takes no effort. You’re the end point in the production line. You didn’t create the property, you didn’t influence it (outside of “buying it” or “not buying it”) and you certainly don’t own it. This means that functionally, your identity is in the hands of someone else and they ultimately don’t care about you outside of you ponying up more money for whatever they’ve rubbed their balls on. Let’s be honest: do you really think that Disney gives two shits about Star Wars fans in particular? Certainly not beyond “they give us money.” They have no emotional investment in the quality of the story or the narrative purity, they just want your money. This is why they’ve sworn to make a new Star Wars movie every year: to keep those box-office receipts rolling in so that Bob Iger can take another lap in his money bin. If the beancounters at Disney decide there’s more money to be made turning Star Wars into a Regency comedy of manners instead of space opera, they’ll do it and jettison the fans in a heartbeat.
But it’s that over-entitled sense of ownership that gets people into trouble. I mean, as long as we’re talking about Star Wars, look at how quickly we all turned on George Lucas. Yeah, the prequels are objectively bad movies and he gave us Jar Jar Binks. Those were still his toys do do with what he chose. But ask a geek and you’ll hear about how Lucas’ stewardship of his own creation was a crime on the same level as the torpedoing of the Lusitania. It’s absurd. But it’s that same misplaced sense of ownership and entitlement that will lead to some of the most insane meltdowns you will ever see.
The author of multiple novels in the Star Wars extended universe got death threats because her version of the Clone Troopers didn’t match up precisely with the visions that some fans had in their heads. A Steven Universe fan artist on Tumblr was hounded to the point of suicide because her depiction of Rose Quartz didn’t look exactly “right”. ((The dogpile was, in fact, started by someone who was jealous that said artist was dating someone the hater had a crush on, but it was the “she’s fanning wrong!” war cry that inspired the fandom to rise up en masse)). The Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies tried to sink one of the oldest fan awards in SF/F fandom because they didn’t like that books they didn’t read were winning awards.
But even those behaviors pale when you see how vehemently folks will try to defend the “purity” of their identity as consumers. After all, when your identity is based around consumption, the more people who take part in it, the less “special” you are. You need to reaffirm your specialness at all costs, either by excluding them by definition or actively driving them away. Religious wars aren’t fought as vehemently as “gamers” defending their beloved hobby against supposed invaders. Watch how many “hardcore” gamers lose their shit when someone who plays Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga calls themselves a gamer or when “walking simulators” like Gone Home or “SJW Hugboxes” like Undertale get popular. The fact that gaming companies are no longer catering specifically to them damages their identity. It dilutes the “specialness” of their identity by opening it up to everyone, which they resent. They feel that their love and consumption of the product means the creator “owes” them, and opening up to new audiences is some form of betrayal. In reality: companies love money and recognize that accessing new markets means even more money.
Of course, this leads us rather handily into the next part:
Remember what I said about geekdom acting like a men’s locker room? This is in no small part because of how damn hard some nerds work to try to turn it into the He-Man Women Hater’s Club. Even when they insist otherwise.
Almost every woman I know in the geek community has had some variation on this conversation:
BOY: I wish more girls liked video games
GIRL: I like video games
BOY: no you don’t. fuck you. what’s the length of Mario’s inseam.
— Albro (@bromanconsul) January 21, 2016
Women who show even vague interest in geek communities or properties often have to fight in order to just take part without being chased away. They’re “allowed” in under specific and limited circumstances – as something for the boys to enjoy, but God forbid they voice an opinion or even set up their own corner of fandom. Their presence is suspect because geekdom has long been artificially labeled as a “male domain” through market segmentation. Ignore the fact that women have been part of geekdom from the beginning, often being the ones who created fandom in the first place, and instead ensure that they know their place by making sure that anything that might be seen as being “for girls” is at the low end of the totem pole. Treat Twilight fans at SDCC as unto a plague of locusts instead of people taking their first steps into urban fantasy and geekdom. Shows with heavy female audiences are treated as lesser and mocked. Fannish activities with a high female contingent like fanfic and Tumblr boards are made out to be inherently stupid and worth less. Geekbros treat women as foreign invaders when the content producers start to notice that women have a market presence and disposable income.
And then they rage when they realize those women aren’t going away. In fact, their presence is starting to make serious changes in geek media. And it drives many geek bros crazy.
Remember what I said about making your identity about what you consume? It’s inevitable that the people who make the things that geeks consume will recognize that there’re other audiences and start to cater to them too. At the end of the day, they care about the audience only in as much as what the audience can do for them (ie. $$$). When more companies recognize that women are a new and vibrant market, they’ll start to make content for them as well. Marvel isn’t featuring a Pakistani-American Ms. Marvel because they’re being forced by the Diversity Illuminati, but because it sells to a market that previously had no interest in comics. Capcom isn’t editing out R.Mika’s buttslap emote because of a sinister cabal of SJWs with their mind-control rays, but because it’s starting to be bad business to look like sexist douchebags.
But to many geek guys, it’s not a case of the market responding to consumers but women coming in and trying to make it all about them – never mind the way Bronies took de facto ownership of a cartoon meant for 9 year old girls. So to them, women are suspect – only in it for shady reasons. They’re Fake Geek Girls who’re only in it for the attention. Cosplayers are just looking for easy money and nerdboy drool. Ignore the hours upon hours of effort it takes to create those costumes and make them work in 3d space. How many cosplayers have gone on to professional careers – not just selling prints on DeviantArt but proper careers? There’s Yaya-Han and…
In the face of this “threat” (and we’ll get to that in a second), women are threatened, diminished and harassed unless they subsume their identity into the anonymous collective stereotype of the white male geek or leave entirely. They need to prove they’re one of the “good” ones, the nerd equivalent of Gillian Flynn’s Cool Girl who’s just One Of The Guys and Doesn’t Mind Sexy Characters and Makes Dick Jokes.
Of course this becomes part and parcel of
There are few things more tedious than when geek bros decide to have a nerd dick-measuring contest. Much like when hipsters attempt to establish dominance by cocksmacking each other over their taste in music, geeks try to make the depth and intricacy of their knowledge into stages of the social hierarchy. The idea that the deeper you are into your geekery, the more dominant you are in the social scene. Therefore, nerds will whip out their cred at any opportunity like sage grouse inflating their throat-sacs at rivals during mating season.
The problem is that this behavior tends to be about as welcome as finding Jack Black behind the counter at the record store. Back when there were record stores, anyway.
After all, establishing one’s superior taste and social status is more important than bonding over the things you do have in common. But alpha nerding gets especially obnoxious when it becomes part and parcel of gatekeeping behavior. As many women have discovered, mentioning that you’re into some geeky property is an invitation to have a male geek challenge the very idea that you actually like the thing you like. Mentioning that she reads comics or likes The Avengers treats her to an inquisition of increasingly obscure trivia as geek men try to prove that she’s another dreaded “fake geek girl” trying to infiltrate the party. Other times alpha nerding behavior acts like the geek equivalent of the neg – trying to bring down the female by implying she couldn’t possibly be a “real” geek and thus make her try to earn his approval. Still other times alpha nerd behavior serves to reinforce the idea that women are inferior – automatically discounting that she could actually know her shit until it’s been confirmed by a guy.
Needless to say, alpha nerding drives people away from the community. Equating the depth of one’s interest in a subject or property with the memorization of obscure trivia ignores the vast array of ways people celebrate their love of their geeky favs. That girl with the Triforce tee may not have memorized the divergent timelines in The Legend of Zelda, but she has learned how to play the Ballad of the Goddess backwards and forwards on the violin. The woman with the asymetrical haircut and hipster glasses may not have cracked a comic, but she’s watched the Marvel movies more times than she’s had hot meals and can quote every line Tom Hiddleston ever uttered. The woman with the Batman tattoo may not know who fixes the Batmobile1 but she’s studied parkour because she was inspired by Catwoman. Fan art, fanfic, cosplay, even arguing about your One True Pair are all legit ways of taking part in the things you love.
Moreover, alpha nerding ignores a simple fact: the person they’re pestering may be a new fan. Nobody was born with an encyclopedic knowledge of Rex the Wonder Dog or Japanese sentai shows; everyone had to start from the beginning, same as everyone else. But when geeks badger them in the name of preserving the “purity” of fandom, they often end up chasing away someone who wants to learn more. These status games are tedious and tiresome and ultimately are born out of a sense of insecurity that seems to infest the geek community.
What do I mean? Well that actually leads to the last part:
Living Down To The Stereotypes
One of the most frustrating aspects of geekdom is how eagerly geeks seem to rush to embrace the worst of their own stereotypes. For a long time, geekdom and nerdiness were seen as being unmasculine in the traditional sense. Being into geeky or nerdy things marked you as being “lesser” than others. Geeks and nerds generally (not always, but frequently) lack the physical prowess of the athletes or the social accomplishments of the “cool” or popular kids. Their interests don’t have the same social cachet as others, and they’re frequently seen as pathetic failures, weak and undesirable, uncool in the extreme. Many geeks come from backgrounds of romantic frustration, and social awkwardness is rampant, leaving them feeling isolated and cut off from the rest of the world. For those, the geek community becomes a sort of refuge, where men2 who don’t conform to stereotypes of masculinity can find a place where they can be top dog. It gives a sense of freedom and fraternity that lets geeks finally have a place of their own where they can be authoritative while defining their own value.
The problem is that even as geeks try to define themselves and their own value, they still buy into their own stereotypes and limitations. Geeks and nerds, despite consciously stepping outside of traditional masculinity, see themselves as being lesser than dominant, “alpha” men, still buy into the idea that geeks are unattractive social misfits by definition. It’s a fascinating exercise in cognitive dissonance; geeks will simultaneously decry jocks, fratboys, Stans, etc. as idiots and inferiors while simultaneously placing themselves lower on the social ladder. Geekboys still fetishize the tropes of toxic hypermasculinity with its gender policing, fetishization of violence and abhorrence of showing emotion or any form of “weakness”. Poke through any comment thread on Kotaku – start with the ones on my articles, in fact – and count the number of times someone is referred to as a pussy, a cuck, told to man up, find his balls, etc. Geeks may place themselves laterally from so-called “normies”, “mundanes”, “citizens”, “muggles” or what-have-you but they still won’t leave the bullshit behind. Even within the bounds of their own community, they still tacitly agree to believe the worst about themselves.
This internal conflict is a major part of why the geek community is so often a raging garbage fire; they’ve imported the fragility of toxic masculinity and appended it to new arbitrary values of “maleness”. Because so many geeks see geekdom as a “male refuge”, the fact that women also share geeky interests threatens their identity. Women can’t be geeks because geeks are men, by definition; therefore women are suspect, invaders into a “male” space. Because the stereotype of nerds and geeks still involves being slovenly, unattractive and socially awkward, the more conventionally attractive a woman is, the more suspect her claims to the geek identity.
Then there’s the fact that many geeks come from a background of romantic rejection and frustration – after all, being a dateless virgin is part of the nerd stereotype. Many geeks carry around their bitterness and resentment at being rejected like a badge of honor – the anger of the Nice Guy is often part and parcel of the geek identity. When you combine this with the entitlement many men feel to female attention, the bitterness and resentment towards women lead towards the explosion of sewage that so frequently defines the geek community. But to many, this shitty behavior – the harassment, the shit-talking, the elitism, tribalism and gatekeeping – are part and parcel of the community. This is how it should be – one giant tire fire of a community, mirroring the same bullying behavior that drove them to find it in the first place. It turns what should be a community based around shared passions and mutual love of cool shit into a giant anxiety disorder of social policing and fights for status; what David Schwartz calls the “Nerd Box”.
Small wonder geek behavior drives women away.
But we can be better than this. By consciously rejecting the stereotypes, by losing the defensive status games and focusing on the joys of our shared mutual interests, we can fix geek culture, make it more open and welcoming. It can be a celebration of our passions instead of another way of limiting ourselves and pushing away people who would otherwise share in the things we love.