XXFactor has a post today about the persistent sexism in “geek culture,” which this particular writer identifies as the tech industry. Now I’m not part of the tech industry–unless fumbling through the occasional SQL query in MS Access counts–but I do count myself as part of varying facets of “geek culture” and wonder if the sexism that Ms. Marcotte laments in the tech industry shows up in other realms of geekdom as well.
The post scathes tech companies (like Yahoo!) that continue to engage in behaviors and practices unfriendly to women, such as having strippers at trade shows, which to the writer “implies that there are no women in the audience [and] certainly sends the message that the tech world is the He-Man Woman-Haters Club.” What about other facets of geek culture? Do you, HL readers and most trusted fellow citizens of geekdom, think that males that identify as “geeks” tend to be more overtly sexist than those who do not?
I’m a woman so, of course, I’ve experienced sexism in its myriad forms. For example, at work (in a male-dominated profession), I often feel that I have to stand on my desk and jump up and down and scream in order to get my (male) supervisors to hear my thoughts and ideas on policies relating to my job, policies that often involve knowledge or skills that only I possess. (Fancy that!) And when I worked in the same office as my (male) supervisors, I got mistaken for the secretary an awful lot. But I’ve been lucky that workplace outings have never taken place on The Block, I’ve never been sexually harassed at work, and if my coworkers make off-color jokes and remarks about women, then they do it well out of my earreach. Good thing too.
But now geek culture … I am, of course, part of the Tolkien writing fandom, which is predominantly female, and I’m not going to go into whether sexism/misogynism exists in that community … not in this post anyway. And I’m in the SCA, which is a pretty equal mix of men and women. I’ve had a few SCAdians make comments about my looks, but they were always people I knew well enough to know that they meant them playfully and not offensively, and they knew me well enough to know that I would take them as such. Fair enough.
I also spent a few years as part of the subculture surrounding a popular tabletop game that shall go unnamed. I built and painted models while my husband and friends played the game. It was not uncommon to walk into the small store where we played to find it packed with twenty or thirty people and yet be the only woman in the store. (A few moms and wives would drift in and out but, in my years there, I knew only one other woman who participated as actively as I did.) I used to tell my husband that I sometimes felt, walking into the store, like half the heads would pop up from the tables, noses would start twitching, and the guys would begin gleefully muttering, “Estrogen! We smell estrogen!”
The gaming models primarily represented men, but when women were depicted, they were always buxom to the extent that hauling around that much extra boobage would make walking difficult, much less weilding a sword and exacting fancy fighting manuevers, and they were usually scantily clad or–in a few instances–unclad entirely from the waist up. Needless to say, we few female participants didn’t get the same eye candy from the gaming models that depicted men.
What of behavior? Well, possibly the most blatantly offensive act of sexism I’ve yet faced occurred in that store while I was working on a painting project. I was minding my own business, working on my current project with a few other guys at the table with me. I was wearing a knee-length dress with a halter-type top that tied behind my neck. At one point, I realized that one of my table-mates was crawling under the table. Thinking that perhaps he’d dropped something down there, I looked underneath the table at him and realized that he was trying to look up my dress. Spurred on by his behavior, the fellow beside me took the opportunity to reach behind me and try to untie the halter top to my dress.
I don’t believe that these guys were trying to frighten me much less assault me; they thought that they were being funny or perhaps paying me a compliment. That didn’t make it right, and when one of my friends who was a store employee later heard about it, he was livid. He was much angrier than I was. Interacting with most of the participants in this particular game always felt like instructing young children in the proper ways to behave in public. The two incidents that afternoon were much the same: No, guys, it is not okay to behave that way toward a woman. Even if she is your friend. Even if you’re just playing around. If you like how I look, telling me that my dress is pretty or that I look nice in it it is a much more effective and civil compliment than trying to take it off of me.
I don’t know if it ever sunk in. My husband and I both grew frustrated with that particular community in a large part because of the rampant immaturity and asocial behavior, and we no longer participate. I still have a closet full of models that I would like to paint someday, but then illumination scratches that part of my brain that demands fine motor skills just as well. I might live out my life quite happily with a bucketful of unassembled Elves in the closet in my study and my old paints mainly serving to provide convenient pop-top containers for gold-leaf sizing.
But when I read that post today, my years with this group came back. And I wondered how typical my own experiences (and, apparently, those of female employees for some of these companies) really were. Anyone have thoughts, insights, or anecdotes on this? How do other predominantly male geek communities treat female participants? What do you think is behind this tendency, if it exists?