I am a Geek Woman, but I’ll be damned if you’ll find me.
The fact is, I don’t feel particularly welcome in Geek culture, not as a normal human being who likes Vulcans and Elves. Hum, maybe it’s the pointy ears? I’m an oddity, perhaps. Something tantalizing? Sure. The girl whose supposed to “get” if not flat-out admire the Geek guys and put up with their misogyny with a cute smirk and an eye roll behind my librarian glasses. Well, no thanks. Also, I don’t even wear glasses.
By now, everyone is aware of the mass murder in Santa Barbara and the role misogyny played in it. And if you haven’t yet, read Arthur Chu’s recent piece. Please. (It’s okay. I’ll wait.) I’ll not press the same points being made across the Internet about male entitlement, etc. I’m also not going to talk about the highly sexualized and anatomically inaccurate depictions of women in Geek and/or Cosplay culture, some happily perpetuated by the women themselves. There’s plenty out there.
Instead, I’d rather share my own experiences by explaining my coping mechanism of both being female and enjoying, say, playing online games.
My main coping mechanism is, well, to be male. In all online games, I create a male character. I often make this character black. I don’t know why. I feel more empowered as a strong, black male. Yes, I’m sure there’s so many interesting psychiatric goodies going on. Leave me alone about it. The point here is that under no circumstances would I play an online game as a female. Even in the days when I spent most of my life on MUSHes (multi-user text RPGs for you kids out there) I mostly played male characters.
This has nothing to do with my sexual preferences. I’m hetero. I’m married. To a man. It’s just that why would I voluntarily bring on myself the pile of sexist shit that goes along with being a gaming woman? Never mind the almost infinite slurs that could be launched my way, most of which are colorful names for my body parts and what I should be done to them, but I would also prefer to avoid such beautiful prose as “Make yourself useful and suck my dick” and the tired-yet-inevitable requests for sandwiches. (And, by the way, I make amazing sandwiches and you jerks will never, ever know the joy of consuming one of them)
Geek culture aside, the open and anonymous Internet is definitely not the place to go to avoid female-directed harassment. Exhibit A: advice from Skype support on how to avoid the almost unending parade of contact invitations:
For the ladies, I now recommend checking your Profile to ensure no gender is selected. (Skype -> Profile -> Edit your Profile -> Gender -> Not Specified.) This seems to go a long way in keeping unwanted contact invitations at bay. (source)
I found this because I was having precisely such a problem. “Gen Jame C. McConville” (holy shit, McCONville? You can try harder that.) and Terry.Brown both tried. There was also an Eng.Macsean James. Yeah, I don’t know these people. I know they don’t know me. I checked my Skype profile that I had set up back in the Dark Ages of the naughts and, lo, I was FeMaLe. Gads. What a burden. I deselected my gender and not a request since.
So what’s a girl to do? My choice is to become an Invisible Man. I avoid using real pictures. If I must put in a name, I use initials. If I need to create a full identity, such as in an online game, I make a male persona. My gaming skills (or lack thereof) do not in any way change, but the perception of them does. Yes, I know men level slurs at each other, often of the homosexual variety (such repartee often attempting to “feminizing” the victim—the worst thing you could do to a man, I guess) but for me these are easier to brush off than the verbal assault focused on my genitalia. No, it’s not rape. Yes, it’s a bit too personal.
You see, the anonymity of the Internet works both ways. It allows immature people to harass others without any direct consequences. It also allows me to disappear. No, I shouldn’t have to, but the way women are treated online is only a more dramatic version of the general lack of respect we get IRL. What women do, even if it is what men are doing, is of less consequence and less value by virtue of it being done by a woman. This is not a new observation. It’s the old “Men are Chefs, Women are Cooks” problem.
I also understand that by not standing up and demonstrating loud and proud that I am a woman Geek and erstwhile gamer that I am helping to perpetuate the perception that women aren’t those things. But you know what? I don’t care. It isn’t my job to demonstrate to a man that I’m a normal human being just as it isn’t my job to be sexually available or sexually attractive to him.
So until all the “I can smell your cunt”-slinging, sexually stunted thirteen-year-old boys grow up and drag the 30-something men acting like them into adulthood with them, I will continue to be, geekily yours, an (online) Invisible Man.