I’ve become fascinated with all of the feminist voices speaking out in geekdom, and increasingly impressed by the response they get – a lot of trolling, and then a lot more support to try to make up for the jerks that still rely on jokes about being barefoot in the kitchen and sandwich making.
Moving into a bigger city has had me thinking more about feminism and my identity, as both a girl and a geek. I can certainly say that in my small little hometown I never had a dude follow me into the parking lot of a grocery store and to my car, yelling at me for not talking to him because I “ain’t that pretty”. I’d also never had the experience of walking into a game store and having a guy openly gawk at me, even when I looked at him, for several minutes as a perused the miniatures available to see if there was something interesting to paint.
I’ve generally been very lucky in my experience in geek culture. I’ve mostly hung out with guys, often significantly older than me, and been treated me the same as the guys and never been talked down to when I had questions. The only occasion I can think of where I was treated differently was in my first Dungeons and Dragons group where I was the only woman and significantly younger than anyone present, and one guy approached me privately to make sure the occasionally dirty jokes didn’t bother me. (Dirty here meaning a character wearing ass-less chaps often bending over to pick things up for comedic reactions from NPCs and PCs alike.)
Though my experiences have been mostly good, I still feel pressure to be some illusive Perfect Geek Girl. Not too attractive or wearing anything other than jeans and a t-shirt, because then it might look like I was trying to get attention, but not too ugly either. Smart and confident enough to join a pick up board game on the fly, but not experienced enough that I still need to be told how to play and god forbid I do well.
I find myself feeling guilty for not being enough of a geek sometimes. I’m not into first person shooters or strategy games. When I tried out Mass Effect I got stuck at a point where my save point had so little health that there was no way at my skill I could get past that point, and I promptly returned to Assassin’s Creed because “look I’m a Middle Eastern ninja!” I often start a game on easy and only move it up if it’s no fun since I generally play games to interact with or create a story, not to work up the muscle memory to score an excellent combo. I’ve gone into a Games Workshop before just because my boyfriend wanted to, and felt horrible for being That Girl that’s only at some geeky thing because her boyfriend was there. You wouldn’t be incorrect to label me as a casual gamer, though if you get me started on Doctor Who, Sherlock, or Merlin you may have to physically restrain me to get me to shut up.
Then when I’m around non-geeks, there’s all this pressure to be “normal”. I like reading? I’m technologically literate and use more than Facebook and Pinterest? I’m not into the bar scene? I play games, have favorite ones, and have been emotionally effected by some? I like figuring out how to do things, even if I won’t necessarily use that knowledge (cheesemaking and some exceptional mozzarella come to mind)? And wait, seriously, I don’t like bars, staying out till 4 am, and getting blitzed? NERD!
In some ways it’s exactly the same as how I feel about my gender; trying to find the right level of intelligence, attractiveness, friendliness, and domestic skills to be “feminine” but not “domestic”. One year for Christmas I asked for some baking pans since mine were worn out, was half-jokingly called “domestic” and I panicked. When I went to a semi-regular theology group discussion it was always cleanly self segregated with the males talking about ideas and the wives hanging out in the corner discussing kids/crafts/cooking, and I could never shake an internal pressure to go join them. I mean, who expects the clueless (then) teen girl to be coherent in this sort of thing?
And so the internal battle began; but I’m a feminist! I can hold my own with guys and I don’t have to be relegated to domestic chores or idle chit-chat! But… I like cooking! And theology just really isn’t all that interesting to me. Though as I came to realize, saying that I have the right to do the same things as a man doesn’t mean I have to. I can cook, bake, knit, and attempt to enjoy sewing (it always looks so easy but is actually so hard) just as I can become an accountant, be a gym rat, or chug beer if I so choose, but the difference is that I have a choice.
Not long ago I found myself hanging out with two couples; the women were discussing Pinterest, the men discussing gender issues, politics, and the environment. I jumped into the guys’ conversation and contributed quite a bit, and attempted to send some small time-traveling telepathic message back to theology group me: don’t feel guilty, just figure out what interests you.
As hard as it is for me to put into practice, I’m slowly working on putting the same principle into effect in the geeky areas of my life. I am entirely capable of participating in the more “hardcore” areas of gaming and geekdom, but if I don’t want to I don’t have to feel like I’m doing a disservice to the girls that are into that. I don’t have to be as hardcore as Felicia Day or make fantastically intricate cosplays to qualify as a “real geek”, I can just play the damn games I want, make the damn things I want to make, and remain convinced that anyone contesting my self-ascribed label of geek due to my gender or some undefined list of what a real geek is, is a douche-canoe. (Though the double-edged sword there is having to give others the same benefit of the doubt and restrain my judge-y-ness when they say something like “yea, I play Words with Friends, I’m such a geek LOLLOLOLOL!”)