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Sunday, 9 September 2012

Nerd culture; you need to chill.

By: g33k and d3stroy

This post is more of a personal rant from my experiences as a girl in nerd culture. Let me preface this by saying (because it obviously needs to be stated over and over again), this does not apply to all dudes. I have quite a few male friends who are just awesome and I love them. But sadly, they are the minority in comparison to the those with problematic attitudes towards women, especially outspoken women, in nerd culture.

Now, I have been a nerd for a really long time at this point. I watched X-Men, Spider-Man, Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball growing up. I started reading comics/manga around the age of 8 and I haven't stopped yet. I started attending comic conventions at around 11. I made my own fan characters, drew comics and did all sorts of embarrassing stuff. I started to read about feminism in my late teens. Funnily enough, I don't think I would have had any of these problems if I didn't read those few feminist texts.

I used to work in comic book retail. It was always a dream of mine; surrounding yourself with comic books, meeting fellow readers and recommending excellent titles. AND earning money? Uh, heck yes! So I managed to get myself a job at a small comic book store at the age of 21. Part internet cafe, part comic shop, part hobby store, I was very excited. Until I actually started working there.

I worked at a convention with my boss and a few co-workers at the end of August. It was fun while simultaneously being stressful and exhausting. At the end of the convention, a customer returned and began making awkward conversation with me. At one point, he asked me out. Flattered and not wanting to be mean, I told him that I was unable to leave as I had to pack up and help move merchandise back to the store. The customer decided to ask my boss if I could leave so he could take me out. My boss asked him how much he would pay to let me leave. The customer offered $50. My boss wanted more. The customer began to back off and leave, while my boss screamed after him, "$100! $75! OKAY, $50!" Thank you for assuming the role as my pimp! After that, I was quickly laid off. My co-workers said the boss said I had too much, 'attitude'. (I've since learned that the word attitude is code for, 'you called me on my bullshit and that hurts my feefees.)

Anyways, jump forward. I got hired at another comic book store, a big one. SURELY this one will be better and I won't be subjected to my employer trying to pimp me while also expecting me to deal with countless strange men masturbating on computers around me! Right??

Well, those things didn't happen. But lots of other stuff did. I was always relegated to the cash register. Every time I tried to work in the various other departments, I was sent back. 'We need pretty girls at the register to bring in male customers.' Barf. A co-worker of mine got regular harassment from male customers because she chose not to wear a bra. Our manager responded by telling her she was asking for it. Classy.

Don't even get me started on the treatment of nerd girls. A guy can say he's a nerd and that's cool. I say I'm a nerd and it automatically raises an eyebrow. And the second I slip up, CRED GONE. I got Electro and the Shocker confused? NOT A REAL NERD. I've never played Halo? NOT A NERD. I haven't read any Green Lantern? NOT A REAL NERD. Perhaps it is this constant judgment of nerd girls that keeps them hesitant to participate in such a culture? And maybe it's this culture that makes us angry and has brought up so much of this discussion up lately? No? We're posers and we're PMSing? Okay. Oh right, and you're only worthwhile as a nerd-girl if you're HOT and a nerd. Yeah, you gotta be typically attractive and a nerd. Otherwise, gtfo.

We got our shipments in the evening mid-week. It was me, another female employee, and a mess of dudes. I learned that they went out for drinks and food afterwards and I was invited. I was told all they did was talk about comics and sex. And hey, I love comics! I like sex! Sign me up. These evenings were just horrible. There was essentially no talk of comics, but the unrelenting bashing of every single female employee at the store, with crude and awful drawings to boot. From their attitude to their looks, it was merciless. And being the token female, I enjoyed endless sexual propositions and harassment, which I tolerated. I even joined in mocking the other female employees. I quickly discovered I was only accepted in this group if I didn't speak up. The irony of the situation is this is the typical situation you imagine for female friendships; friendships built around drama and hating each other. But I haven't found one of those that even compared to this yet. Eventually, I realised what a massive dickbag I was being and I stopped attending those nights. I also started to realise my male co-workers were awful. I made an effort to befriend the other female employees rather than see them as my competition. I become friendly with every female co-worker at the store and remained on good terms with the few male employees who acted like adults. Things became tense as I became more and more irritated with the state of the store and less tolerant of their bullshit, until I quit. I discovered that a male co-worker was paid more than me, and he was there for 2 months while I was there for nearly 2 years. I confronted the owner of the store and he didn't believe me. I brought in proof, he listened. He agreed to pay me the same amount. Although why aren't I being paid MORE than a newbie? After all, I've been one of the head cashiers for a while. I managed the float, went to the bank, cleaned the store, helped with shipments and generally did 100x more than our new employee. I was told no and the owner acted like a passive-aggressive child towards me for the next week. I quit and was written off for having a bad 'attitude'.

Now jump forward past that. I have a lovely boyfriend whom I live with who is very supportive and has become quite feminist. He has a group of male friends who are basically huge super film nerds. I meet them a few times, they seem alright. They regularly gather at our apartment to watch movies. (I am not a movie nerd in any sense - I love movies, but they aren't my passion.) This has been going on for about a year now. There used to be another girl who attended but has stopped for the past 8 months, so I am once again the token girl. Due to my inability to discuss film, I am pretty quiet. I am a naturally shy person. But I have tried to become more than 'the girlfriend.' Podcasts take place and I try to participate, but I am often skipped over. Embarrassingly, my boyfriend has to butt in to ask me questions to remind them to involve me. That feels GREAT. My short answers are usually met with sarcasm, making me feel even worse for even attempting to talk about movies.

I have a reputation for being opinionated and feminist. This apparently makes me terrifying. I will tear the face off anyone who even dares speak a word to me. Or at least that is the general idea. Despite the fact I have been nothing but nice, have offered up my apartment for countless gatherings, have baked cookies and paid for pizzas, I can tell I am still viewed as an angry, unfun feminist. When they ask my boyfriend if they can come over, I can tell they are really asking him to ask me. Because I'm the domineering girlfriend who won't let my boyfriend have any fun, he has to get approval for fun from me first. My poor boyfriend, dating someone like me. Such a ruthless, domineering woman! Having opinions and the like, tsk tsk. I can't even count how many jokes have been made about me being a violent maniac who regularly beats my boyfriend.

I regularly deal with the 'girlfriend' syndrome amongst male mutual friends. Despite the fact that me and my boyfriend live in an apartment decorated top to bottom with nerdy memorabilia, it is always written off that my boyfriend is a nerd and that I am tolerant. A friend will start discussing a comic or video game with my boyfriend without bothering to include me in the conversation, despite the fact that we have a shared interest. Sometimes I try to insert myself into the conversation, but there is rarely an attempt made to keep me involved.

I used to play on xbox live obsessively. Left 4 Dead is one of my favourite games. Having other players with microphones is preferable so you can co-ordinate attacks and know when your team needs help. Having a microphone and being a girl is quite a different story. Most of the time, as soon as they learn I'm a girl, I'm a terrible player. But just 2 minutes ago, I was fine. Go figure. Or then there's the, "WOW, A GIRL PLAYING A VIDEO GAME!" Yes, stop the presses. I am amazing. Then there's just inappropriate comments and straight up misogynistic jabs, those are fun. I never use a mic anymore.

So, really. What have I learned by being a nerd? Well, I've learned that the best way to fit in with a culture that is so ridiculously sexist is to keep your mouth shut. Ladies, don't have opinions. And if you do, you are over-sensitive and on your period. Or just a big evil feminist that is probably a lesbian. Make sure a dude agrees with your opinions because only then will it have validity, as men aren't subject to our WILD hormones and ever changing moods. Be ready to deal with harassment and inappropriate comments and to take them with a smile.

Nerd culture, why can't you just step up your game? Why is it so scary that I have opinions and that I don't want you making insulting jokes/comments? Why is it so hard that I wanted to be included and treated as a person rather than the subject of tokenism? I have met MANY male nerds in my day who always complain, 'There are no nerd girls! Where are they?!' Maybe they've taken their business elsewhere as to avoid the gross alienation and harassment that is so common, as I have. And yes, I know, all nerds aren't like that. But most nerds don't bother to call it out. I've seen a lot of defense of this behaviour and that is just as much of a problem as the behaviour itself.

I've had many suggestions thrown my way. 'You should try harder,' 'Don't take it so personally,'. Believe me, I do try. I know how to try and how to make it work. I know that the formula for generally dealing with this shit is to be quiet, smile, laugh, don't have an opinion, agree and be tolerant of copious amounts of bullshit. I just don't think it's worthwhile anymore.


  1. Your post reminded me of something I read some time ago:

    If I may be so bold as to offer advice, it sounds like your boyfriend is not being very supportive. I think he should say to his friends, "Look, I don't want you coming over for a while because the last time you did, you were really rude to my girlfriend. And I am fed up with it."

    Please take into account that I have been single for a long time, so am probably the last person who should offer relationship advice.

  2. Well, in my opinion if you're loud and confident enough, they always listen. Sounds to me though that you feel like you have to be accepted in the nerd club founded by boys. Who cares? Be a happy nerd girl, find other nerd girls or friendly boys, and don't waste your time talking to people who don't listen to you (no matter what the topic is).

  3. @Gamine, while I appreciate your advice, the point of my post was that this sort of behaviour within nerd culture is inescapable in a lot of ways. Having worked at various establishments, conventions and having nerdy friends, this is just the norm. That isn't to say there aren't wonderful nerdy people out there, but the culture itself condones and breeds hostility towards women, especially women who have opinions. You can view the comment section on any post pertaining to comics to see what I mean. Besides, isn't the problem here nerd culture? Shouldn't nerd culture catch up with the rest of the world rather than making people uncomfortable and excluded?

  4. 'You should try harder,' 'Don't take it so personally,'

    They're the ones with the shitty behavior. They should try harder to fix that and not take it so personally when they're called out on it!

  5. Wow, what a story to tell! Thank you for your courage to put it out there!


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