Amanda Marcotte suggests, in her response to the Alyssa Berznak debacle, that the majority of the outcry surrounding it is the province of a brigade of “Nice Guys” and their enablers focusing on the wrong part of what was wrong with the original article. And for a portion of it, she’s definitely correct. However, from my corner of the geekosphere, it’s a far different picture.
I didn’t jump into the fray to defend Finkel. Dude’s doing just fine on his own: from Magic Champ to Hedge Fund Manager. He’s good. He doesn’t need me to defend him or anyone else. And he’s handling this with amazing grace and aplomb.
And I certainly didn’t jump in to defend “Nice Guys,” having fallen prey to that species before myself.
Nor am I about to claim geeks are never sexist, because that’s given lie both by my last post and my own experiences.
I jumped in for a couple of reasons. I jumped in to defend geeks and geekery. I jumped in to weigh in on why relationships where one partner is seriously invested in any sort of hobby or geekery and the other doesn’t have their own passionate interests tend not to work real well. I jumped in to point out that telling geeks to just “get over it” isn’t always realistic. I jumped in to call out the sexist assholes. And I jumped in to point out yet again that there are geeky girls out there.
Well, duh, I hear you say, you run a website called Geek Girls Rule.
Yes, I do. I am also happily gribbling my way through the new Sigvald novel from the Black Library. Last night in our Dresden Files game, I was instrumental in re-establishing a forgotten court of the Fae. I’m also married to someone whose idea of pillow talk includes lamenting the lost art of semi-colon use, and I find that sexy.
But the tendency of the media is still to code “geek” as masculine. Popular depictions of female geeks still focus on girls and women who don’t play “girl” very well. Who live in t-shirts and jeans and who think when you talk about MAC stores, you’re talking about Mac stores. Trust me, try being taken seriously walking into most gaming stores in a dress, full make-up, and heels. Unless you’re wearing an oh so kawaii Japanese schoolgirl outfit or a fuzzy bear hat, not so much. Like, say, if you stroll in after working your office day job.
There are a lot of us out there who game, play videogames, write fanfic, watch anime and read comics who dress just like every other woman who works in an office environment out there, because we have to. How else are we going to afford that twelfth Nightcrawler bust that Marvel just put out? There are a lot of us who do those things and love make-up and nail polish, and frilly clothes. And, there are a lot of us out there who love all those geeky things and don’t. There are tons of geeky girls who fit both descriptions at the same time even, and more. But people forget that. And Bereznak framing her article as girls -v- geek made a lot of our hackles rise.
I talked about mixed marriages in the last post.
But there’s another point I really want to talk about, that needs talking about in the worst way. See, when people who are not or have never really been geeks chime in to tell us to just get over the abuse of the past, I don’t think you realize just what you’re asking us to “get over.”
I was sexually harassed, raped, and hit by a car because as a dork I was fair game, and then labelled a slut. Fellow students would pound on my windows in the middle of the night, screaming. There were phone calls, hang ups, whispered obscenities, or the classmates who felt the need to helpfully tell my mother exactly how many cocks her virgin daughter had supposedly been sucking in the loving detail of adolescent imagination. Other girls shoved me, and picked apart my appearance obsessively. I spent at least six months of 7th grade carrying all my books all the time because I was afraid of the girls who shared the locker next to mine. They used to post the Honor Roll publicly, and after the first two quarters, I purposely quit getting good grades, because being on that list just made it worse. As did speaking to anyone in authority about what was going on.
The Geek Husband What Rules, he of the punctuation-related pillow talk, fought nearly every day of his high school career because he was a freak and a dork. He fought both to defend himself and the other misfits because he was big enough to do some damage back. He used to ride his bike on the wrong side of the street, because when he rode it on the right side, invariably jocks would come by in their cars and hit him with a bat as they drove past. They would steal his stuff, not because they needed or wanted his school or D&D books, but to hurt him. His folks finally put him in the “alternative school,” which was little more than some place to warehouse those students who would just be getting a GED at that time. They put thim there because the principal of the high school decided he was a discipline problem. Not the basketball players that jumped him five against one when he left play rehearsals. Him. In part because as a martial arts nerd, and big guy, he put three of those five guys in the hospital.
And for many of us, this shit starts early. I caught endless shit in grade school for my penchant for rescuing worms, because worms are a vital part of the ecosystem and shouldn’t die on the sidewalk. I was in a special class for the academically talented, which marked me . The only thing that kept it all from being worse is that we moved a lot. I had three high schools in three states in three years. The Geek Husband What Rules was dubbed “Army Tank” and constantly mocked for his love of all things military, and penchant for wearing clothes bought from the Army/Navy Surplus. Discovering D&D in middle school didn’t help.
There is still a tendency to downplay the toll bullying takes on its victims, the freaks, nerds, dweebs and dorks, even after the recent rash of well-publicized suicides. There is the all too common desire to minimize the damage that the golden children, the hope of the next generation, do to their peers. “They’re just children.” “Boys will be boys.” And of course the ever popular, “Well, if you didn’t look/act/dress that way, they’d leave you alone.”
Lemme tell you a secret learned the hard way: kids can smell freak a mile away.
After three high schools and a brand new wardrobe at each one, I can tell you, all the right clothes, the right shoes, make-up, none of it means shit. You can watch them and ape their behaviors all you want, even mimic them perfectly, and they’ll mock you for it. Like they’re watching a trained monkey perform human. If you’re lucky, they’ll let you hang around to laugh at, if you’re viscious enough to your fellow dorks, and never forget your place. And there’s one of those in every school.
I want you to realize, in saying this, that I’m not defending the “Nice Guys” who develop a burning hatred of women who do not dispense the pussy when they do “the right things,” because a cheerleader was mean to them in high school, and they got beat up a lot. I am not defending them at all. But I do understand where it comes from. It’s all too easy to let the bitterness eat you up.
And I’m sure as hell not defending the sexism that still proliferates in much of the geekosphere. But that’s another whole host of posts.
What I am doing is telling you why saying, “Get over it!” doesn’t work.
We’ve been hearing variations of “Get over it!” since the abuse first started.
The problem here is that “Get over it” means, “Quit acting like this ever happened, because I can’t go back to ignoring the problems that created you until you do.”
I agree, the “Nice Guys” do need to grow the fuck up. But they don’t necessarily need to “Get over it.” They need to take their experiences and develop some fucking empathy for other human beings, including and especially human beings of the female persuasion. They need to realize that no matter how many times they hit on, get shot down by, and then verbally abuse and publicly humiliate women who look like the cheerleader who laughed at them in 9th grade, it isn’t going to erase what happened in 9th grade, and it isn’t going to make them feel any better, ever. Nor is it going to erase it if, by some miracle, she ever does say yes.
I usually snort derisively at homilies and proverbs, but you know what? Living well really is the best revenge. I’m married to a wonderful geeky husband, who loves me and I love him. We have an active sex life, a lot of really awesome friends (most of whom are also geeky, some of whom are not), loads of hobbies and interests, a punk rock band, awesome cats, great room-mates and we’re happy. I get to write to the intertubez, and sometimes I get an influx of douchey trolls, but mostly not. Most of the people who read and follow me are awesome and supportive and wonderful.
It’s not all puppies, kittens and roses. He’s still kind of a music fascist. I’m still a grouchy bitch when I’m writing. And sometimes my job leaves me in a sub-optimal mood. Sometimes I suffer from the self-doubt pounded into me by my peers and validated by every authority figure who did nothing, or blamed me for it, as does he. Sometimes someone, a complete stranger, will trip a button installed by that long ago abuse, and one of us will have to calm the other down as anger based in survival floods our system and makes us incoherent with fear and rage out of proportion with what just happened.
And cats come with litterboxes.
But the thing is, the choice you have to make as a grown up is whether you’re going to learn from what happened to you and become a (relatively) well-adjusted adult, or if you’re going to live your life the embittered victim of everything that was done to you, lashing out at others and visiting your misery on everyone you encounter.
That isn’t winning. That’s giving the bullies what they want: control over your life and everything you do thereafter.
You don’t have to forget. And you don’t have to never talk about it. But you do have to learn how to take what was done to you, and live with it, not under the crushing weight of it.