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The latest “geek community” dipshitery

I was going to write something about the latest misogynistic asshole behavior in the con-going “geek” community (Nick Mamatas has a good blog post about it here, but then I remembered that I don’t go to cons, don’t cosplay, don’t do any of that community stuff. Whenever I read about one of these problems, my initial response is I hope those people can fix that shit, because that sounds awful. As far as I’m concerned, it has nothing to do with me.[1]

However (you knew there’d be a “however’), it does make me think of a single-panel cartoon I read when I was a kid. Here’s the setup: a pair of hippies are standing in the street with their frayed cut-off jeans and jacket, looking at a store window display showing those same clothes for sale at substantial prices. I don’t remember the joke written beneath but I can still see the dismay on those characters’ faces. The things they valued had been co-opted for the mainstream.

We’ve seen it over and over, from rap songs in McDonald’s commercials to dreamcatchers for sale in home decorating stores. Have a subculture? Does it seem cool enough to break out into the mainstream? Soon your cultural identifiers will be for sale at Hot Topic.

This doesn’t seem to work the same way within the geek community, largely because it defines itself primarily through the type of mass media entertainments it consumes. I never see geeks upset about their favorite thing for sale: Tardis bookshelf? Enterprise tree ornaments? Lord of the Rings Lego set? Awesome! They snap up their credit cards.

That’s because geeks are a marketing category that thinks of itself as a subculture. Their communal activities center on movies, books, TV shows–whether they’re made in this country or another–and seeing these consumed by non-geeks as well as geeks isn’t a co-opting. It’s conquest. “We won,” I heard Greg Bear say at the NW Bookfest some years ago, and to prove it he cited box office figures.

And yet they still feel co-opted. They still write the screeds Nick talked about.

The surprising thing isn’t the misogyny. That’s rampant in every part of our culture and I look forward to the day that we shame it out of existence. The surprising thing is the talk about “attention” especially the idea that good-looking women are attention whores who just want geeks to look at them. Anyone who wants to see THE AVENGERS on opening weekend is welcome. Come spend your money! Geeks will have their credit cards out, too.

But their attention is the most precious commodity they have. Attention is the coin of the realm. Attention confers ownership.

It shouldn’t surprise me that a certain segment of the population is wedded to the idea that the time and energy they spend looking is incredibly valuable, but it does.

[1]Obligatory disclaimer: I don’t hate cons or look down on them or whatever. I’m just not interested. It’s great that other people like and value them, but I’d rather be at home with my family.

Mirrored from Twenty Palaces. You can comment here or there.


( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 15th, 2012 08:44 pm (UTC)
But their attention is the most precious commodity they have

you see the fangroups come and go, and the most loyal of them stay with their first love as it were.

I am wondering what the next fanwave will be after Steampunk myself.
Nov. 15th, 2012 10:33 pm (UTC)
Guy Fieri-punk
Nov. 15th, 2012 11:05 pm (UTC)
I need to stock up on the little armbands he wears then...
Nov. 16th, 2012 06:57 am (UTC)
I know! If it's anything like his place in San Jose, where some friends took us, I'm not surprised.
Nov. 16th, 2012 03:33 am (UTC)
Oh, that comment about the value of attention is interesting. I wonder if it's just men or mostly men who feel that way?
Nov. 16th, 2012 07:00 am (UTC)
I'm sure that it's not *only* men, because: people. Besides, everyone gets annoyed by things that feel like a waste of time.

But resenting women who have fun doing their own thing? That's dudes.
Nov. 16th, 2012 12:39 pm (UTC)
Technology, as ever, comes to the rescue

Nov. 16th, 2012 03:13 pm (UTC)
Excellent. I'm putting that into my next Randomness link roundup. Thanks.
Nov. 17th, 2012 01:53 am (UTC)
I'm honored!
Nov. 16th, 2012 10:54 am (UTC)
I just clicked through that link and read...

I suspect that "attention" in this case is code for "sexual frustration". The alleged "whores who found glasses" often prove frustratingly unwhore-like in their choosiness.

However, surely the best way to fix this is to make your community as safe and welcoming to females as possible?
Nov. 16th, 2012 03:18 pm (UTC)
You would think so, but it seems not.
Nov. 16th, 2012 11:05 pm (UTC)
I suspect you mean "women," but yeah. ("Female" and "male" used as nouns tend to be markers of douchebaggery, so it's a good idea to avoid them. In fact I was thinking just yesterday I hadn't seen an exception in a while, and here you are.)
Nov. 17th, 2012 08:31 am (UTC)
Oh interesting. I have not encountered that. To me male/female as nouns are neutral and technical within the mating context, which is what we're really talking about here.

I shall ask around.

Realy, I meant "Female Geeks/Nerds".
Nov. 17th, 2012 11:31 pm (UTC)
Oof. Yeah, you could run into major misunderstandings there. The thing is that "male" and "female" as nouns aren't either more technical or more neutral -- they convey no more specific information than "man" and "woman," and they have the connotation that you're speaking of animals being studied. When the whole point of a discussion is that people are being seen as less than fully human, using words that make them sound like animals isn't the greatest idea (even if you supposedly balance it by calling men males).

Also, look at "make your community as safe and welcoming to females as possible" -- can you see the implication in that phrasing that the community belongs to men, and women are the ones being "welcomed" to it, like guests in someone else's house? That may be more civilized-sounding, but it's not treating women as full members of the community. I'm not saying that's what you meant, but the implication crept into what you actually said.
Nov. 18th, 2012 09:26 am (UTC)
A close rereading of the original comments reveals I was putting myself in the shoes of the frustrated male g'nerd. Hence the "you" and the "male" and "female".

Obviously, I must be more careful when empathising with the sad or bad...
Nov. 18th, 2012 02:30 pm (UTC)
Now please read this.
Dear Ethelmay

There is another aspect to our exchange which as a liberal feminist myself, I would humbly beg you to consider.

You caught me out using language carelessly. Mea Culpa. So now I'll think more carefully about how I use language around difficult issues. Well done.

Except, am I more or less likely to join the discussion next time?

Most people don't have the time to reread what they write, to check for unintended meanings. They shoot from the hip. They'll write, "Guys who harass girls at cons are bastard sons of bitches" not stopping to consider that "girl", "bastard", "bitch" are poor word choices.

When you police the language, you take ownership of the discussion. However, you do so by shutting the door on anybody not trained in a particular kind of discourse.... the very people you want on side.

Perhaps you think fixing the language will fix the world? I hope not because this attitude is a marker for various negative attributes one associated with people who have spent too long in various monocultures.

Me, I prefer to fix the world directly, by living out my ideals for example in the way I raise my daughter, or the role model I present to my son, or in my martial arts club which manages to be both inclusive and robust, or by being a supportive "house husband" while my wife pursues her career.
Nov. 18th, 2012 04:00 pm (UTC)
Re: Now please read this.
I missed this part of the conversation because I was celebrating my anniversary, but I have to say that I think Ethelmay is correct here. Language reveals unspoken assumptions, which we all have. We live in sexist cultures, and taking note of the way it shapes our thinking is an important part of becoming truly egalitarian.

I know, for myself, that as hard as I try to be a good role model for my own son and a good husband, too, I have blind spots. Me, I'm glad to have them pointed out so I can see more clearly.

I hope you don't avoid discussions next time. I've been right where you are now more than once and it doesn't feel great, but I've always come out of it more aware of myself and the way I interact with the world.

That's how it goes for me, anyway.
Nov. 18th, 2012 04:50 pm (UTC)
Re: Now please read this.
I think she is correct, but being correct isn't the same as being useful.
Nov. 18th, 2012 10:58 pm (UTC)
Re: Now please read this.
I do think language is important, especially in an online environment where it's our only tool for representing ourselves at all. If nothing else, people have to be using terms in more or less the same way just so as not to be talking past one another. I'm not trying to take ownership of the discussion, only to do a tiny bit of debugging along the way.
Nov. 18th, 2012 11:57 pm (UTC)
Re: Now please read this.
I figured that and was worried - in hindsight - that I had sounded too cross!

Debugging as you go along is nice idea.

However, there is still the risk of creating an atmosphere of "Gotcha" around gender and class issues.

There are other people less reasonable than yourself who love playing PC Bingo and make discussion of difficult issues almost impossible. Best not to feed them.
Nov. 19th, 2012 11:46 am (UTC)
Actually "douche bag" is misogynistic
Actually, just to give you an idea of how this kind of policing can run interference on actual discussion:

Your original comment referenced the "douche bag" and used it as an insult. Given what "douche" usually refers to (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douche) this use of "douche bag" is misogynistic, similar to the misuse of the "C" word.

I could have responded "go look up douche bag and *then* we'll discus sexist language"...

"The Romans make a desert and they call it peace".
Nov. 19th, 2012 09:07 pm (UTC)
Re: Actually "douche bag" is misogynistic
That's kind of the point. Douching is an unnecessary and harmful practice, both physically (it can cause health problems) and psychologically (the supposed necessity for douching is based on women's shame about their natural body odor). So yeah, a douchebag is something someone told women we were supposed to need that is actually totally bad for us.
Nov. 19th, 2012 09:59 pm (UTC)
Re: Actually "douche bag" is misogynistic
(Sweeps his sword in salute.)

But by "making" you answer that I still derailed the conversation, or at least messed with the signal to noise ratio.
Nov. 19th, 2012 10:31 pm (UTC)
Not all digressions are derailments
In this particular discussion, I don't think anyone had more to say on the main line anyway. And I consider it perfectly reasonable of you to ask why I would use douchebag the way I did.
Nov. 20th, 2012 09:35 am (UTC)
Re: Not all digressions are derailments
It was perfectly reasonable. We all were. And not all digressions are derailment.

However, this web-wide quest for linguistic correctness creates a kind of Clausewitzian "friction", an overhead if you like, whenever there is liberal or feminist discourse. I also think it's a barrier to entry. The Other Side know no such constraints.

Anyway, I appreciate you engaging with me. I had better focus on my work. See you next time.
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )