Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Momma Sed

I grew up on science fiction. I was raised with the aid of television and video games. I had a stack of books and comics on my bedside table that kept me up every night since I was six. They became obsessions. My head was filled with stories and characters and intricate, complex dynamic universes. This did not go away as an adult. I, in a very positive and beautiful sense, am a nerd.

Eh...close enough
This is a fact that I am very proud of. As the author John Green famously said, “nerds…are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff.” I think that’s a great thing. I think society would be much better off without a nerd culture. That idea should simply be inherent to human civilization. It is unfortunate, then, that there are some elucidating moments that causes my pride to waver.
There has been a very odd backlash in nerddom against general female inclusion. The reason for this has perplexed me for some time and continues to do so. Some of you might remember when late last year comic writer Tony Harris published a rant on Facebook against ‘fake geek girls.’ Why someone would pretend to be a geek or a nerd in the first place is beyond me.

This idea of ‘fake geek girls’ has been making the rounds for a while, but very recently has become a widespread and eruptive topic of debate. Even the existence of such a discussion fills me with a deep sense of shame for this beautiful culture I’m privileged to take part in. This should never have been a conversation to begin with. That it has become a regular facet of public dialog is viscerally disgusting.

It was somewhat of a culture shock to learn, as I grew older, than nerddom is a big old boys’ club. It seemed odd to me not to include women. I grew up on a generation of intelligent, strong, independent, sexy badasses doing whatever the hell they wanted or thought was right. That image developed into what I found to be attractive in women. I can't for the life of me understand why anyone within this culture would view things from so far on the opposite end of the spectrum.

With more redheads than exist in the natural world
A lot of writing has already been done on this topic by people with a better grounding to comment than myself. Namely, women that have suffered the brunt of this indignity. Some men, yes, but mostly they echo the women’s frustrations. They repeat the same valid arguments of the absurdity of demanding some sort of geek credential from women. That women only pretend to be nerds to toy with men, like Greek sirens luring nerdy vessels to rocky deaths. It insults the individuality of a woman, robs her of her identity and paints her as simply an accent to men with no discernible personal qualities of her own.

These are all very well-established and poignant arguments that I wish and encourage others to make, but that I will retreat from repeating in length at the moment. I’d like to try and tackle this issue from the male perspective. As a man who wishes to include all people, including women, equally in this wonderful culture of ours, I hope I can add some of my own insight to this discussion.

In every conversation I’ve had with men on this subject there is one phrase that they all repeat. It’s so blatantly derogatory that it blows me away every single time. The idea is so engrained in our public consciousness as an absolutely misogynistic concept that it shocks me to hear it every time, especially from men my own age. It goes something along the lines of, “if she didn’t want me to react like that, then she wouldn’t dress like that.” If you don’t immediately know that you are a sexist ass when you say those words you lack all sense of self-awareness. 

An entire subculture of Michael Scotts
There is, I believe, a direct link between the objectification of women and the push to exclude them from geekdom. ‘Objectification’ is itself a very culturally-nuanced term that elicits a wide range of reactions and perspectives. Let’s keep it simple. Let’s, for the purposes of this article, say that to objectify is to make something into a purely technical item. To turn something or someone into nothing more than an object. So what does this have to do with fake geek girls?

Almost every argument against women pretending to be nerds comes down to, or at least mentions, cosplay. You’d be hard-pressed to find one that doesn’t. Which, when you think about it, is incredibly odd. Why is it that this particular subject is such a sore spot for nerds? What is the problem with women dressing up in costumes to emulate beloved characters? Is it then equally wrong for men to do so?

Lying slut
Apparently not, because time and time again it is the cosplaying women who seem to bear the ultimate burden of proof of their devotion. And most of the time the argument comes further still to being about attractive women who cosplay. That attractive women especially cannot be nerds. Why would a beautiful person, as the previously-quoted John Green put it, ‘like stuff?’

Well, the absurdity of that is already reasonably apparent. How attractive you are has nothing to do with what you enjoy. Even having to argue that concept is irritating to me. You, as an observer, are not allowed to dictate what somebody else likes because of some ridiculous preconceived notions. It is childish and ignorant and shouldn’t have been humored in the first place, but here we are.

So if the argument is that how a woman dresses permits a man to behave a certain way and that attractive female cosplayers are fake geeks, then there seems to be one conclusion to draw from this. That fake geek girls self-objectify. That by dressing the way that they do they turn themselves into purely aesthetic objects. But ask any nerdy girl and they’ll all tell that they have no intention of doing so.

If the male external perspective is that the woman is self-objectifying and the internal female perspective is that they are simply expressing their adoration for certain sexy female characters, which are mostly created by men anyway, then the external perception has to be the incorrect one. You cannot define someone else’s identity. It is then the man who is objectifying the woman and projecting his perception onto her. It is a failure of the male to perceive the female as a real person.

"Wait, wait, wait. Are you telling me boobs come with people now?"
Now the issue becomes far less complex. It becomes the same problem we’ve always had. It comes down to treating women as purely sexual beings and judging them by a double standard not applied to men. And when that woman won’t have sex with that man, or at least when the man perceives that to be the case, then it has to be the woman’s fault. It is the same misogynistic sexist nonsense that many of the great science fiction writers have indicted and denounced. It is a horrible and despicable irony. 
A woman displaying her sexuality does not strip away her own identity. If anything, that sexuality is a part of the sum of her individuality, as it is with men. Being attractive, being sexual, does not make one less of a human being. And that seems, to me, as a male looking in from the outside, to be at the heart of the matter. It’s the same old story. A woman cannot express her sexuality without being turned into an object by certain men. If you cosplay in a skimpy outfit, you are not really a nerd. When you boil it down like that, it sounds pretty ridiculous, doesn’t it?

When I was a kid being a nerd was perceived to be a bad thing. We were bullied and beaten, mocked and hated, subjugated by those who saw what we did as socially unacceptable. Now we do the same to an entire half of our fellow geeks. Yes, there are that many nerdy girls out there and, yes, they are all just as genuine as you or I. Let’s embrace that and forget about this absurd idea of ‘fake geek girls’. Let’s just enjoy this wonderful experience together. Nerdery is about joy and love, not fear and hate. We should all learn to live the lifestyle as well as its basic underlying philosophy.