This post is part of my NaBloPoMo experiment. As always, if you have anything you’d like to see me write about, drop me a line in the comments or at my email.
So, there are a couple of problematically obnoxious societal constructs surrounding geekdom and emotion, and they are largely constructed around male geek identity, since mainstream culture and media still have difficulties dealing with the concept of female geeks and nerds. And since I am currently, in the parlance of Tumblr, “Trapped in a glass case of emotion” right now due to several issues, but largely due to having spent the afternoon and early evening with my terminally ill uncle, let’s talk about “feels.”
First, I would like to start out explaining that everyone has “feels” to one extent or another. Some people seem to feel things much more intensely than others and display these emotions openly and easily, some people seem to barely register them, but may in fact be feeling them just as deeply as anyone else. And some people really don’t go through the paroxysms of emotion that others do, and can be downright puzzled by them.
I’m in the first camp. I cry easily, I always have. Certain authors have a tendency to reduce me to a sobbing wreck by the ends of their novels, I’m looking at you Seanan McGuire and Steven Erikson. Disney movies wreck me, and there is a rule in my house that outlaws the watching of the film Black Beauty, by me. At all. Ever.
This rule exists for a reason.
The way I deal with emotions is coded female in this society. I experience them at the time, and I do so intensely and openly. But here’s the thing. Many of those things that make ME cry, also make the Geek Husband What Rules cry, he just won’t show you unless, well, you’re me. There’s a reason we don’t see Disney movies in the theater, because, and I quote, “If I’m going to cry in public it had better be because someone is kicking me in the head.” This conversation happened after we saw The Lion King in the theater.
The Geek Husband What Rules copes with emotion in a typically male-coded way. He stifles it, until/unless he is alone. Unless that emotion is anger, because anger is perfectly ok, as a man, to display.
Which brings me to the only emotion I actually have trouble displaying in public, or did. I’ve gotten much better at it. Anger. I used to have a really hard time being angry. I would sublimate that angry into sad, or, often, into self-denigration or self-destruction. It took the Geek Husband What Rules ages to convince me I could be angry, and just actually BE angry and that was ok. Just as it took me years to convince him that he could cry in front of me and I didn’t think he was any less a man.
So, that’s normal, societal conditioning for emotion between the genders: Men are allowed to be angry, women can be everything else BUT angry. Angry women are bitches, or mannish. Men displaying other emotions are weak, or pussies.
Now, what about Nerds? What does Nerd-dom add to the mix?
Well, instead of discarding these patently absurd societal constructs, nerd culture has a distressing tendency to “take them to eleven.”
In some cases you get the hyper-idealized “rational” man, the Spock. Now I know that the irony here is that Vulcans do not actually feel no emotion, but that they feel emotions so intensely that they have to rigidly control their public emotional displays lest they completely overwhelm or incapacitate them. You know that, I know that. Apparently there are tons of Nerd dudes out there who missed that memo, and think that being “Spock-like” means some ideal state where you just don’t have those stupid, pesky, illogical emotions anymore. It’s like the Platonic ideal of the “rational man.”*
There have been many pop culture icons of the Spock, many of whom are often shown up or “destroyed” by the exposure of the fact that they DO have emotions: Spock himself, Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory (fucking hell I hate that show and how it depicts nerds), Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons. I could probably come up with more, but I’ve had 8 hours of sleep, in the last 72. I’m not really firing on all cylinders right now, but Pavel’s awake in the next room and when the infant isn’t sleeping, no one sleeps.
The opposite of that charicature of male geek emotion is the male nerd who is feminized by his emotion. You know what I’m talking about. The guys in the drama club, for example, many of whom (in my experience), joined drama to get laid, actually. In popular culture you see the nerd guy being bullied or picked on by the jocks, often beaten up, and what do they taunt him with? “That’s right, run away crying!” Which is a female-coded emotional behavior. And a reasonable response to pain and having the shit beat out of you.
Both of these stereotypes are actively harmful to both men and women. To women, you say? How is that a thing? Didn’t you just tell us about how women get away with emotions because of societal coding?
Well, yes, and no, because we don’t get to be angry. And also because for a lot of nerd girls trying to fit in with the nerd guys, the Spock also becomes the ideal. The Spock becomes the ideal because we (and I include past me in this) don’t want to be like those “Other GIRLS.” We want to be rational, intellectual beings, because behaving in ways societally coded as female is bad, and the opposite of intellectual. You know, like those “feminized” nerd guys. No one wants to be a “pussy” or “whiny bitch.” That’s not cool.
No, what’s not cool is allowing these stereotypes to flourish in any segment of society. It hurts everyone, not just men and not just women. Women get denigrated for having/displaying emotion, or not, and men get called women if they display any emotion but anger. Neither of these stereotypes allow people to deal with their emotions honestly and forthrightly, or in any way that could be deemed healthy. Women are encouraged to display emotion to reinforce societal ideals of female emotional weakness, and men are discouraged, because showing emotions is weak, like women. And it furthers the idea of “female” being less than “male.”
This is bullshit.
Today, my mother walked into the room where her younger brother lay in his bed, less than a month from death according to the doctors, and she would not allow herself to cry. She still hasn’t, to the best of my knowledge, because to display emotion like that is weakness, and my mother will not allow herself to be weak. She did acknowledge that she nearly broke down, but so far she hasn’t.
I’ve spent my entire life being derided by family and friends for being “over-emotional,” “over-sensitive,” “feeling too much.” I’ve been called an attention whore for my honest reactions to things that have happened around and to me. You know, things like death or rape.
I think seeing your terminally ill younger sibling barely able to stand or talk is one of those things you should get a pass on even in this fucked up society. I mean, it’s just me, but when you helped raise your younger brother and now he’s dying before you, I think you get to cry. You get to be sad and angry, and curse the injustice of it all. And I think you should be able to be supported by your family. (For the record, I really wish Mom would freak out at least a little. I worry about her blood pressure.)
He was my favorite uncle growing up, but he was her little brother. She helped take care of her younger siblings because my grandmother always worked, except for brief periods of time after the birth of each child.** He is so much more to her, and losing your shit over this is more than a reasonable and rational reaction.
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*The irony that many of the “rational men” I deal with here are the ones calling me a hysterical bitch because I’ve hurt their feelings, does not escape me. Neither does the fact that my saying things that they disagree with, no matter how calmly, reasonably, and logically I put them, drives them into a frothing rage.
**This idea that women working is a new thing just fucking kills me. I am unaware of a single generation of my family where the women did NOT work outside the home. Except for the farmers, because they worked “at home” just like the men did, often doing the same work, in addition to housework and raising the kids. Rich women didn’t work outside the home until recently, but the rest of us peons? Fuck off, GOP.