There has been much talk lately of what it’s like being a geek and female lately. I agree with both posts cited that it certainly isn’t the easiest thing to be, but I know for me it’s been easier then some I know, most actually. Whether or not that is due to luck or just me being oblivious to inappropriate male attentions I am not sure. I didn’t have much socialization growing up so it’s hard for me to tell sometimes.
I have worked in a comic book/trading & sports cards/magazines/porn shop and at a video store (remember those?!) and they offered me a singular insight into what it can be like to be constantly surrounded by geeks, especially male ones. At the comic store I was one of exactly 2 women on the retail side of a local chain that probably had upwards of 70 employees in the stores. Oddly enough both of us primarily worked at the same location.
The sexism there was apparent but somehow low key. The men I worked with were fairly enlightened and wouldn’t stand for much shit from the customers. They were extremely protective of me which was both a good thing and a bad thing. It was nice not to worry about wankers both literal and figuratively when it was my turn to stock the porn room because I knew someone would be keeping an eye on the camera. It could also be frustrating when they would cut me off when I was giving a suggestion as to what to buy to a customer out of the misguided assumption that I either wouldn’t want to be bothered or knew less then they did.
The customers were much more a source of amusement then frustration, between the cute, shy old men buying their weekly porno mags and the annoying magic players who would gladly follow me around the store for an hour describing their decks it about evened out.
At the video store (it was a Suncoast for clarity sake) for the majority of the time I worked there the manager and I were the only women. I was the anime expert. At the time I was a hardcore otaku and devoted a hefty amount of time and energy watching, reading and listening to anything related to anime. I religiously read Newtype and Animerica and when people came in with questions about anime they were directed my way. I was seen as an authority on that genre and it was just accepted, possible because anime is all too often seen as something more women then men are into.
Both articles talked about how it’s very difficult for some, maybe a lot of women to even enter a nerd store (video games, records, comics and the like) and cited examples of harassment. I see things like that with my lady friends, they don’t read comics like I do because they just don’t want to deal with the possibility of a hassle while picking up the product, or the stupid questions they might have to deal with when talking to someone about their interests.
But that aspect of it hasn’t been much of a problem for me happily. I specifically looked for a comic store to work at when I was looking for a second part time job right after college. I wanted the discount most of all and to be in a place where I was comfortable and could handle the clientele. I have dealt with geeks-particularly geeky men-for so long that I am far more comfortable with them then with non geeks. At least I have a good idea of the kind of awkwardness I may have to deal with and more then likely there will be at least one I can have an interesting conversation with.
I do occasionally get the wondering and shocked looks when I reveal my passion for Star Trek and Batman or my love of video games, especially when it is something like Halo which is well outside the safe space that it is assumed that women occupy (JRPG’s, puzzle games, platformers) in gaming. But I brush them off because I enjoy that stuff too much to let some unexamining assholes ruin it for me.
But my experience is not the norm, and I make certain choices to keep my interactions from being too aggravating. And it fucking sucks to have to make those choices, for those reasons.
I wish I felt comfortable enough to try some tabletop RPG’s at the local store’s game night, D&D fascinates me and good science do I want to get in on some of that. But I am not brave enough to go into an all male RPG night with no knowledge of how to play. If I had even a basic understanding it would be one thing, but entering into a field like that with no knowledge could peg me into a very specific, very terrible place.
That I am an internet meme.
That I am there to get on their jock.
That I am just so cute!
That my lack of knowledge is due to some inherent inability to learn so they will handle all the difficult stuff (read:everything) for me.
What I’m getting at is that strangers are easy to deal with as I’ve had so much experience at it. I often find that it’s friends that are the hard part. I face more mansplaining by the men who are my friends and family then I ever have from strangers. And it’s particularly insidious when it’s done by someone you with whom you have a close relationship. Being told how to beat the boss I have already played through, or the merits of a book I have read 5 times. Snapping on them is not really conducive to the friendship but neither is sitting there, nodding and smiling as I’m being told something I am fully aware of. My usual reaction is to smile and politely say “yes I know, I’ve read/played/done thing in question” and if they refuse to listen to me and keep talking I just walk away to find someone to actually engage in conversation with as opposed to being talked at.
I think a part of it is indeed the idea of male privilege and that they simply MUST explain it to you for fear you just won’t get it and would of course like to hear their lengthy opinions on the matter at hand, being a lady and all. But I also think a very big part of it is that as geeks we enjoy explaining all about this thing (whatever it may be) that we are super into and want desperately to share our opinions with anyone who will listen. When those 2 things are combined…it’s a giant clusterfuck of how feeling their opinions is the most important and they can over ride the polite requests to believe me when I say I am fully aware of the background and can we move on to an actual discussion?
I see that kind of behavior all too often from the guys in my circles of friends being directed at the women. There sometimes seems to be an air of condescension and a general understanding among the guys that ‘we dude’s know better’. Sure if we agree with them then of course we are right too, but disagreement is met with more skepticism and more derision then if we were a dude.
And to be clear, this is NOT how it is with all of them all the time. Far from it, some of them never engage in it and with most of them it’s only occasional, usually when highly intoxicated. But it’s enough that almost every single women with whom I interact from those circles has commented on it to both me and the other women.
Oddly enough this is made harder with men who feel they are feminist allies. It seems that if they feel they already subscribe to the values of feminism then there is no possible way that they could be behaving badly. As if once they have gone to the side of supporting women’s equality it would be impossible for them to do not in keeping with those tenets. Sadly it’s all too easy to slip into misogynistic patterns. I strive every day to make sure that I don’t,by listening when other women-and the occasional man-call me out and do my best to be introspective and evaluate my thoughts, words and actions to make sure they are in keeping with the values that I hold dear. Sometimes they are not, and I feel bad and do my best to make ammends and try again all the harder.
Now I’m going to steer this longer then usual post back around to how it relates to the Kotaku article.
Y’see, one of the issues of male privilege as it applies to fandom is the instinctive defensive reaction to any criticism that maybe, just maybe, shit’s a little fucked up, yo.
All too often the geeks respond to criticism very poorly. Instant defense mode and lashing out are the usual. Even when it comes to a woman telling their male friend who identifies as a feminist ally that maybe they are being just a little willfully obtuse when it comes to how they are reacting to a her opinion and could it be because she’s a woman?
Like I said in the very beginning of this post, I consider myself lucky in my interactions with the geek world. I haven’t faced too much shit and and am confident enough about the things that I like that I will rarely let anxiety about what kind of shit I will have to put up with prohibit me from going somewhere or talking about something. But even I have my limits. For now my search for other woman D&D players continues and I continue to refine my approach to how to handle the occasional instances of mansplaining from my male buddies.
But I can see how those women who didn’t grow up in a house where Star Trek and Star Wars were family watching fare would be reticent to enter this world. I had a mother who took me to every batman movie that came out as a kid, the only one we haven’t watched together is Dark Knight, and I’m sure she will love it. I had a role model from a very young age that things that are all too often identified as ‘boy’ stuff are for everyone. For women who didn’t have that they may not even think about reading a comic book or playing a video game, and that’s a loss for everyone. Better diversity among fans would hopefully lead to a wider variety of product. More money coming in to fuel the industries means more opportunities for development of possible properties. As more and more women come into this world it’s my hope that as men are no longer seen as the dominant force the dialogue will change and their voices won’t be valued above my own. As a geek I want all of that, more and better media to consume and to have discussions where no one’s voice is considered more important simply because of their gender. And I will continue to try do my part in making that hope a reality.