Tag Archives: geek culture

Quick hit: when non-macho guys are on top of the heap

There’s a discussion around the journalism startups that well-known journalists are involved in, and the extent to which they are yet another set of startups full of white men. (Basically, yes.) Emily Bell wrote Journalism startups aren’t a revolution if they’re filled with all these white men.

I thought readers here would especially enjoy Zeynep Tufekci’s contribution, No, Nate, brogrammers may not be macho, but that’s not all there is to it. An excerpt:

Many tech guys, many young and recently ascendant, think something along these lines: “Wait, we’re not the jocks. We aren’t the people who were jerks. We never pushed anyone into a locker and smashed their face. We’re the people who got teased for being brainy, for not being macho, the ones who never got a look from the popular girls (or boys), the ones who were bullied for our interests in science and math, and… what’s wrong with Dungeons & Dragons, anyway?”

In other words, as Silver puts it, “We’re outsiders, basically.”[…]

[L]ife’s not just high school, and there is not one kind of hierarchy. What happens when formerly excluded groups gain more power, like techies? They don’t just let go of their old forms of cultural capital. Yet they may be blind to how their old ways of identifying and accepting each other are exclusionary to others. They still interpret the world through their sense of status when they were “basically, outsiders.”

Most tech people don’t think of it this way, but the fact that most of them wear jeans all the time is just another example of cultural capital, an arbitrary marker that’s valued in their habitus, both to delineate it and to preserve it. Jeans are arbitrary, as arbitrary as ties[…]

How does that relate to the Silver’s charged defense that his team could not be “bro-y” people? Simple: among the mostly male, smart, geeky groups that most programmers and technical people come from, there is a way of existing that is, yes, often fairly exclusionary to women but not in ways that Silver and his friends recognize as male privilege.

Tufekci’s whole piece is at Medium, come for the Bourdieu, stay for the Dr Seuss!

If you were hacking since age 8, it means you were privileged.

This post was originally published at Restructure!

Often, computer geeks who started programming at a young age brag about it, as it is a source of geeky prestige. However, most computer geeks are oblivious to the fact that your parents being able to afford a computer back in the 1980s is a product of class privilege, not your innate geekiness. Additionally, the child’s gender affects how much the parents are willing to financially invest in the child’s computer education. If parents in the 1980s think that it is unlikely their eight-year-old daughter will have a career in technology, then purchasing a computer may seem like a frivolous expense.

Because of systemic racism, class differences correlate with racial demographics. In the Racialicious post Gaming Masculinity, Latoya quotes a researcher’s exchange with an African American male computer science (CS) undergraduate:

“Me and some of my black friends were talking about the other guys in CS. Some of them have been programming since they were eight. We can’t compete with that. Now, the only thing that I have been doing since I was eight is playing basketball. I would own them on the court. I mean it wouldn’t be fair, they would just stand there and I would dominate. It is sort of like that in CS.”
— Undergraduate CS Major

Those “other guys” in CS are those white, male geeks who brag in CS newsgroups about hacking away at their Commodore 64s as young children, where successive posters reveal younger and younger ages in order to trump the previous poster. This disgusting flaunting of privilege completely demoralizes those of us who gained computer access only recently. However, CS departments—which tend to be dominated by even more privileged computer geeks of an earlier era when computers were even rarer—also assume that early computer adoption is a meritocratic measure of innate interest and ability.

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Geeky. Black. Female. Android.

This is cross-posted at Restructure!

In the futuristic city of Metropolis, Cindi Mayweather, a.k.a. Android # 57821, falls in love with a human named Anthony Greendown. As a result, the Star Commission schedules for her immediate disassembly. Cindi Mayweather hides in the Neon Valley Street District, while card-carrying android bounty hunters are urged to capture her for a reward. The Droid Control Marshalls forbid the bounty hunters from using phasers that day; they can only use chainsaws and electro-daggers.

Janelle Monáe, Metropolis. Suite I, The Chase. XOOO The ArchAndroid, Janelle Monae. Suites II and III. XXXO

Cindi Mayweather is actually the alter-ego of Janelle Monáe, an underrated, multi-talented American recording artist, and apparent science fiction geek. Jason Heller of sci-fl/fantasy site Tor writes of Monáe:

Monáe herself has said how indebted to the SF canon she is: In interviews she’s gushed about Philip K. Dick, The Matrix, Metropolis (a film she pays visual tribute to on the cover of The ArchAndroid), and most often Octavia E. Butler, a visionary writer whose ethnocentric SF clearly marks her as Monáe’s aesthetic godmother. [...] Monáe isn’t dabbling in SF. She takes the stuff passionately and seriously.

In her lyrics, Monáe alludes to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, kryptonite, and thinks of herself as “something like a Terminator“. (On the other hand, her lyrics also include some ableist (and nonsensical) phrases like, “shake it like schizo”.)

From her first album, Metropolis, the music video for “Many Moons” is about an Annual Android Auction featuring a performance by Cindi Mayweather, in which Monáe dances erratically and does the moonwalk:

If you liked that video and want more highly-polished videos by Monáe, check out “Tightrope”, which is not sci-fi-themed but has fantasy elements and gender-liberating dancing, as well as the trailer for The ArchAndroid, in which the camera pans around a futuristic city-scape that turns out to be Monáe’s hat.


Related links (thanks, yatima):

Playing with women’s boundaries

Trigger warning: contains mentions of implied sexual assault.

Between around 2000 and 2005, mostly during my second and third attempts at tertiary study, I racked up substantially more than one year’s worth of time in a text-based RPG. The particular one I played was a very heavily customised CircleMUD and had been going for quite a number of years at that stage.

Back then, I was an environment geek, or so I thought. It was during the second tertiary course that I learned the uber-basics of how The Internets worked, mostly from trying and (given my inexperience) largely succeeding in creating a website for a class project. The site was to document the species found in an ecological restoration site.

I learned HTML in the space of a weekend, and continued on to create the entire umpteen bazillion HTML files over the following few weeks. By hand. In static HTML. And frustrating the hell out of the teacher who could not get over my use of Notepad as my preferred way to edit HTML files. You really do not want to know what she wanted me to use.

All the while I was doing this, I was spending my spare time smiting the living daylights out of textually represented orcs, goblins, trolls and so forth, doing quest tasks, and generally having a fun time. So much fun that I started contributing to the game by making zones — new lands full of things to smite to shit, and be smited by.

I was prolific in my zone building. I tidied several orphaned zones up to start with, then I earned the privilege of being able to add completely new zones and expand one of the adopted zones to be a whole new area which was richly scripted. I moderated the communications channels, and helped form policies. I had a penchant for running weekly quests and all this meant that by the time I left, I ranked moderately in the deity hierarchy and knew how to code.

There was a small group of regulars who were women. That is, women in Real Life. To say we were “sought after” would be an understatement. To say that some of the dudes didn’t know boundaries is probably a larger one. At least once I had someone attempt to enact a caveman mating ritual. For real. Using a knock-out spell and the “R” word and everything. It was awful, but thankfully my protests were heard and the asshole was banned for a significant period of time and learned from his mistake.

Unfortunately, there was not always this level of understanding.

Years later, towards the end of my playing days, there was an individual who developed an obsession with myself and one of the other deity women. He abused the messaging services within the game, and when he realised that we had set him to ignore on all fronts, he proceeded to abuse scripted things within the game such as the florists, and out-of-game contact methods like email, to send us things. Awful things. Like links to pictures of hysteria machines saying how fun they would be for us. The higher deities were aware, and some of them did their best to spare us from the harassment, banning him when things got bad. At one point, the individual even posted a hate website to try slut-shame our characters.

Then, one day, the asshole appeared online as a deity himself. We could no longer avoid him, as he too was now a deity and impervious to ignore filters. What the hell was happening?!

It turns out that this little freak had befriended the administrator’s fiancée, and then the admin. They had decided that since we’d never taken our complaints to the admin himself until the promotion — just the deities above our own rank — that they didn’t have to care. We were told that we were just making stuff up for the sake of spite, then we were reprimanded rather fiercely by the fiancée for getting angry at her for defending the asshole.

I tried to hang around for a while, and even tried to continue playing under the guise of an alternate character. Alas, the fun was no longer there.

Our degenerate modern linkspamming society (18th December, 2009)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Geek culture stereotypes and women’s responses

Links to Lisa Grossman’s Of Geeks and Girls have been turning up everywhere. She’s recounting work by Sapna Cheryan asking women about their interest in computing, in their case rooms that are decorated such that “Star Wars posters adorned the walls, discarded computer parts and cans of Coke clustered on a table” and showing that they are much less likely to agree that they have any interest in computer science. (Grossman does not report how men responded: surely Cheryan’s work used male subjects as well?)

The article goes on to caution though that while geek culture stereotypes seem to alienate women to some degree, dismantling the whole culture is not the solution:

But what about the women who do think like computer scientists? What of the girl geeks?

Cheryan has given talks where the audience doubted the existence of girl geeks. She’s also given talks to girl geeks. There, she has received responses such as, “I’m a female engineer, and I like Star Trek! What are you trying to say?†She explains that her studies aren’t supposed to give a picture of what computer scientists are actually like. The geek room is a caricature. “We couldn’t have found a room in the CS building that really looked like that,†she says. But the perception it captures is real.

It’s a fairly frequent response to geek feminism to argue that it’s an attempt to destroy geek culture, or at best that it’s a zero sum game: the number of women who would join a more feminist geek culture would be equalled by the number of men who would leave; occasionally this argument essentially boils down to “I’m here to get the hell away from women” but more commonly it’s along the lines of “I’m here to get the hell away from mainstream social norms, I like the social norms in geekdom, you’re trying to turn them into mainstream social norms, ew.” This reminds me of that response, but from women. We’re here for the geekdom. We talk about what we want to change; we should also talk about what we want to keep.

You’re welcome to discuss Cheryan’s work and Grossman’s take on it in general in comments here (worth remembering though that we generally don’t have perfect insight into our prejudices, so you may or may not be more turned off by discarded computer parts than you think), but I specifically wanted to ask women who see themselves as part of geek culture, or a geek culture, what are the parts of it that you enjoy and that you’re hoping to open up to more women?