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Gazetteers :: Sexism in Nerd Culture

Posted by Kristin on July 27, 2012

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The Gazetteers are a group of like-minded nerd girls who are artists, engineers, and writers. This series isn’t about us telling you how awesome or misunderstood girl nerds are. We’re not about gender-bias; we’re about sharing ourselves, our fan love, our culture, and writing about the nerd world as we see it. We are nerds, we are Gazetteers!

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 Sexism in Nerd Culture

Though we’re taking great strides to overcome it, sexism is a fact of life.  Sooner or later, someone will treat you differently based on which body parts you have or which gender you appear to be.  It might be in the form of chivalry (nice, but can go too far) or it may result in someone being a total douchebag to you.  Nerd culture isn’t exempt from sexism, and it can affect anyone – boy or girl.

For a group of girl writers, an article on sexism is the elephant in the room. It’s something we have to touch on, and something we’re likely to come back to.  For our second article we thought it would be a good idea to confront it head on with each of us sharing a bit of how we perceive sexism in the nerd world.

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Laura Borrelli

It’s assumed that only men like to play video games, read comic books, and are interested in computer science. Accusations persist that women are not “real nerds”. This schism has created unwelcoming communities in the nerd world and supports the idea that women can’t like a particular hobby because of their gender.

For most women, it’s not easy reaching the so called nerd status. Most of us have gone through some pretty bad experiences where we’re accused of faking our interests to fit in. The sad thing is that most people who share these nerdy interests have also experienced being picked on or bullied because of the particular hobbies that they enjoy (i.e., comic books, video games, etc). We’re supposed to support one another and progress together in a society that may not fully quite understand us, so why pick on someone just because of their gender?

In the video game industry women are becoming a larger part of the demographic. According to the Entertainment Software Association, it was revealed that forty percent of all game players are in fact women. In addition, women who are over the age of 18 represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (30 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (18 percent). Founder of Women in Games Jobs, David Smith, commented on these numbers by saying “those looking from outside of the games industry can now see evidence that key figures in the games industry are taking steps to address the gender imbalance that exists in the video and online games industry.” This is fantastic news.

In the comics industry women readers and creators are both in the minority, but that’s changing. Example: Womanthology, a project that first started out as a Kickstarter, is now going to be published by IDW. The first anthology’s theme was Heroic and the upcoming five-issue miniseries from IDW is Space. The books include mini-comics, pin-ups, and helpful tips from professionals. All of the content is produced entirely by women and the new series is expected to feature the work of over 140 contributors. This is the start of an amazing line that opens many doors for women in comics everywhere.

Mainstream comics is another arena entirely, especially concerning the big two. A new addition to the long list of sexist gripes with DC Comics’ New 52 is the forthcoming issue zero cover of Catwoman. The issue retells her origin story and presents a good opportunity to attract new female readers to the title. But that won’t happen with the issue’s cover. It’s no big secret that Catwoman’s sexuality is a huge part of her character in the comics but there’s a threshold – let’s at least make her anatomically correct. Catwoman’s pose is mind-boggling. The cover caused a huge backlash from fans who were upset that sexualizing a mainstream heroine could really go this far.

Nerdy culture is more mainstream than ever. We’re now reaching out to a larger audience. By increasing awareness of women entering this once male-dominated world we can look forward to a more balanced future, one where we’re all united by a passion for the media we love.  -Laura

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Jessica Uelmen

Sexism and nerds… My, oh my, what a sticky subject. I’m going to say something crazy here, but I find it…amusing. Now I’m not talking about real situations where female CFOs are paid less than male counterparts, I’m more referring to trollish comments posted across the interwebs.
I’ve posted a number of educational videos on YouTube, and trust me I feel like I’ve seen it all when it comes to anonymous commentary. Generally these comments fall into three categories: surprise that someone of my level of attractiveness is into electronics, varying levels of sexual deviance, and…my boobs. My personal favorite is:

Here’s my take: the people who use gender, race or sexuality to antagonize or discredit a person royally suck. Furthermore, I could care less what they think about me (and you shouldn’t either). These people obviously have their own deep-rooted insecurities and frankly, I just have better things to worry about.

Realistically, I don’t think that chauvinism is very common. From what I’ve seen, for every person that voices a negative opinion there’s another to stand up to him or her. For example, this comment popped up in response to the one shared above:

Sexism is a topic which gets talked about frequently, but I think the old adage ‘ignore them and they will go away’ truly applies. Well… maybe they won’t go away completely, but people make ridiculous comments to get a rise out of people. Take those reactions away and what will drive people to speak out?

I know it’s natural for nerds to be a little self-conscious, but it’s important to be confident in who you are and what you know. Don’t let a few annoying fuckwads get you down. -Jessica

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Kristin Frenzel- 

I think it is safe to say we’ve all experienced sexism in some form – whether you’re a man or woman. Going on and on about how it is unfair, shameful, and shows a lack of respect would be beating a dead horse –  we all know that’s true. Speaking of horses, one of the most gross examples of sexism I’ve seen lately doesn’t involve women at all. Rather it deals with a select group of men who enjoy a cartoon about ponies.

We mentioned My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic in our previous article, and as one of the most revolutionary things to happen to the pop culture gender divide, they beg to be mentioned again. Though conceived with young girls in mind as the target audience, the biggest fans of the show are men between the ages of 18-22 – aka “bronies”.  Why do they like this show though everything in our culture says they shouldn’t? It has a lot of depth, the characters are well-developed , the art is pretty good, and it’s really entertaining. I’m a fan.

But since it’s a colorful cartoon meant for girls men aren’t supposed to like this show. Bronies get berated by the mainstream world which asks the same questions: “Why do men like this show?”  “Are they pedophiles?” “Are they socially inept?” “Are they immature?” “WHY?”

The thing is – those questions are moot. The real question should be, “WHY DO WE CARE?” Why do we as a society have such profound prejudices towards what aesthetics and concepts belong to certain genders and age groups? An article by Rebecca Angel of GeekMom shows us that even geeky women who have a passion for pop culture aimed at young boys they still find it “creepy” that guys would get equally excited over a little girl’s show.

Reading about these offended reactions to bronies, I was confused. Many of us in nerdy circles grew up being ostracized. For us to turn around and do the same to our fellow nerds should go against our core values – against everything our nerdy forefathers and mothers fought for (see historical documentary; Revenge of the Nerds).

There’s also the double-standard factor: why is do these women finding it creepy and wrong for guys to like a girl show when they can like shows targeted at boys? By that judgement shouldn’t they be considered equally as creepy? I don’t see anything creepy about guys liking girl shows or vise versa. I also guarantee you if any of those girls were called out for liking Superman or The Flash they would cry out and whine about the sexist treatment, when they’re guilty of the exact same thing.

From the GeekMom article:

“Is spending free time watching children’s cartoons a sign of immaturity? Are bronies stunted in their growth as adults?
‘I mistrust anything that infantilizes men because I feel very protective of women [who are forced to grow up when they have children]’ said one mother. This sparked a full discussion of how men seem to have a choice whether or not to grow up and help with child-rearing. Often a woman will not marry the father of their children because the man expects to be taken care of as well.”

I think that one line, that one opinion “I mistrust anything that infantilizes men because I feel very protective of women [who are forced to grow up when they have children]”, is another very valid but also very sexist point. It’s unfair to condemn an entire sex because of insecurities and trust issues – especially when it involves watching a cartoon show. I know several bronies, some are dedicated fathers who would do anything for their children. Why should this woman mistrust these fathers because they like to watch magical pastel ponies save all of Equestria?

The fact is: if it were women watching the show en masse I don’t believe they would get the flak that men do. Instead of the pointing of fingers and name calling folks should just relax and let bronies be bronies.  –Kristin

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Kailyn Boehm (Kaymonstar)-

Out of everything I spend time thinking about- how my gender descriptor is portrayed is the furthest thing from my mind. I don’t have time to care about how every person views me. I’m too busy trying to keep up with all my favorite shows, artists, games, comics, music, and movies to keep track of how much hate I’ve distilled for how someone might view me. It’s not my war to wage and I don’t plan on enlisting. But I think I may have been drafted somehow. In that case all I can do is play the part of “Joker” in this war analogy. Better him than “Gomer Pile” I suppose.

In lieu of doing actual research, I’ve been reading a lot of blogs about sexism. If there is one thing that will make you want to punch yourself in the face repeatedly it would be: to read a lot of blogs about sexism. I want to throw my hands up in the air and say I quit the human race. I forfeit.  I want to somersault off of a mountain top. I’ve read articles from the entire spectrum and I don’t feel like I came out any better/worse of person for it, but it’s frustrating. It’s like everyone is shouting the same damn thing but no one is listening because they all have fingers in their ears. Cliff notes version: There is plenty of room in this sandbox for everyone.

It’s pretty simple – I don’t like when people tell me who to be or what to do; whether it’s women who tell me how to think a certain way about my gender, or men who tell me how I should act, feel, or dress. It’s an old sentiment, but I think it’s about time we all start judging people based by the quality of their character rather than their sex or gender. Nerds have to lead by example and treat everyone equally. Just don’t confuse equality with dumbing down the things we love to placate someone else.

Granted, if something is blatantly an injustice you can’t just turn a blind eye. Address it, and then move on. Don’t spend a millenia hating an entire gender for the mistakes of a few who do not represent the whole.  -Kay

  • Another great article!

  • There is currently an excellent video commentary on the homepage of feministfrequency.com related to this topic, specifically on the extreme reaction to Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter project “Tropes vs Women in Video Games.” Also, will you be covering GeekGirlCon? This event takes place in Seattle, WA on August 11-12.

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