So there’s this really ugly thing happening in the world of nerdom. I think I first started hearing about it last year, but I suspect it’s been going on longer than that; I’m kind of a nerd among nerds, and I don’t go to cons or frequent message boards or play online games or interact with other nerds who aren’t part of my immediate social circle, where thankfully this doesn’t really seem to happen much. But it is, I now realize, happening elsewhere. This thing has been on my mind a lot for the last few days, ever since I read Fake G33k Girl’s new blog. I can’t stop thinking about this, so I’m going to kind of ride her coattails and give my two cents.
(Although, if you haven’t read her blog yet, you totally should. Her treatment of this topic is so much better than mine.)
Back when I was in high school, the terms “nerd” and “geek” did not, or at least from where I was standing didn’t seem to, refer to cultures, but instead referred to stereotypes. Back then when someone called me a nerd they probably weren’t trying to be my friend. Back then we nerds didn’t call ourselves nerds, those names were stuck to us by others. We had a lot of common interests, such as comic books, role playing games and science fiction to name a few, but that’s not why we were called nerds. We were given these labels because we didn’t really fit in with the social structures around us. Occasionally that was a result of having interests that weren’t, at that time, mainstream, but I think more often it was a lack of social skills or other differences that earned someone the title of “nerd” or “geek”.
And of course, part of this stereotype was that we were all a bunch of lonely boys who will never grow up or get to touch boobs. Back then we had girls in our ranks, but they seemed to be a minority within our minority. They may not have actually been, I’m not sure, but that certainly was the perception, even to a lot of us nerds.
Later on we started to claim those words as our own, to wear them as badges of honor and build a real, honest to goodness, no bullshit culture around them. We held our heads high as we suffered the slings and arrows of people thinking it worthy of derision to learn Klingon, or become intimately familiar with the intricacies of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, or keep a Magic: the Gathering deck in our back pocket.
And a while after that, perhaps in part because of that, a lot of our “nerd” interests started to become popular and mainstream. Nowadays we have big budget, high quality film adaptations of superheroes and 1980’s cartoons, as well as classic science fiction and fantasy novels. Whereas people who like dressing up like characters from movies, comics and video games were once seen as weirdos and losers, now it’s a real legitimate hobby with a special name and everything! We call it cosplaying, and lots of people do it, and gone are the days where we just assume they’re jobless losers living in their parents’ basements.
Being a nerd is no longer a stigma. It’s a culture, it’s a set of interests, it’s a lifestyle. Most importantly, it’s socially acceptable. We have actual nerd celebrities, like Wil Wheaton and Vin Diesel. Yeah, did you know Vin Diesel plays D&D?
Pretty cool, right?
It’s been a long time since anyone has called me a nerd or a geek in a mean, hurtful way. I’m no longer worried about sharing my geeky interests with strangers. People are cool with it. I no longer feel like I’m being excluded. That’s a good thing.
So why the fuck do I keep hearing about geeky ladies being treated like shit by nerd guys? I mean, of all fucking people, nerds are excluding women from their culture? This whole thing about “testing” women to confirm that they’re “real” geeks. Slut-shaming women who cosplay, or accusing them of doing it just to turn on their boyfriends. Talking to women in online games in such an objectifyingly, obscene way that many female gamers try to pass themselves as dudes just so they can play without other members of their community demeaning them. I even hear tell about threats of rape and other forms of violence because a woman has the gall to try to be a part of this scene we’ve created.
Nerds are doing this? NERDS ARE DOING THIS??
A true nerd knows the pain of exclusion. A true nerd knows the fear of being attacked, literally and figuratively, because of one’s interests. A true nerd should be grateful that all kinds of people, including women, are talking an interest in the things that we love. I remember being afraid of scaring women off, whether or not I was trying to “get with them” or just hang out, by talking about my nerdy interests. Part of that fear stays with me today. When I see a woman wearing a Doctor Who t-shirt or reading an RPG manual, I’m delighted. I’m overjoyed that the line between us outcasts and them cool kids is blurring. I’m glad that, whatever other social shortcomings I have, I can talk to these people because we have common interests. I’m glad that geek girls are a thing. I want all people to feel welcome in our geek culture.
So, y’know, don’t be a dick, huh?
P.S. I’m talking about misogyny here, but for the record I’m also against homophobia, racism, and any other kind of bigotry. These things have no place in nerd culture, and we all need to put a stop to it.