Tag Archives: gender

Close-up of large weathered chain links in sunlight.

Klaatu barada linkspam (29th June, 2012)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

How Science-Geek Culture Discourages Female Science-Geeks

The majority of commenters agreed that women could not excel in math, due to biology and evolution. In Slashdot Science, the commenters were mostly grown men with science degrees. I was a nineteen-year-old girl with only a high school diploma and a love of science. They were more educated than me, and I wanted to learn from them.

Whenever I encountered a Slashdot article about science and gender, I read the comments, trying to learn more about myself. I felt sick to my stomach each time. I used mental gymnastics to reconcile my love of science with science-credentialed, male elders proclaiming with certainty that female brains were unfit for math and science. They were the experts, after all. I was only a young, female science student.

Math and science are hard. I worried that when I found something challenging in math or science, it was because I was a girl and lacked the mental machinery to understand it. (I thought of myself as a “girl”, because I was still technically a teenager.) I accepted evolution. Many times, I had panick attacks over the possibility that I had innate, hard-wired mental limitations. Before graduating with a science degree, I was unproven. There was no proof that I could be a science person, but I already saw mountains of scientific evidence suggesting that I could not be a science person. Unproven male geeks don’t struggle with science research telling them that they can’t do science when they start to try.

Only after I graduated with a science degree did I feel I had the authority to challenge Slashdotters. Only after I graduated did I feel like a real adult. After I graduated, I was livid, knowing that Slashdot commenters were merely conjecturing casually about my mental limitations, unwittingly crushing the self-esteem of my younger geek self.

Sexism on the Internet—especially discussion websites about science, computers, and math—are like guided missiles targeting and damaging the self-esteem of young female geeks. Female geeks are most likely to see male geeks discuss our alleged mental inferiority in math and science. Non-geek women are unlikely to see these comments, because they are not the ones reading Slashdot, Digg, reddit, Hacker News, techcrunch, or Ars Technica.

For many male geeks, conjecturing about women’s mental and career potential is just an intellectual exercise, and stating personal and scientific hypotheses about women as if they are scientific facts is harmless. For us, it is personal and disturbing.

Wall of Spam, by freezelight on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Linkspammmmm (18th May, 2012)

Enjoy!

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

babeology-leeanna-vamp-is-lady-chewbacca-20110815032950638

“Oh, You Sexy Geek!”: “Geek Girls” and the Problem of Self-Objectification

Cross-posted at From Austin to A&M.

I just returned from the PCA/ACA conference in Boston this year, where I presented a paper on geek women presenting themselves as “sexy,” focusing on cosplay.

My presentation had a powerpoint. I’ve embedded it below. You can also download it, if you like.

Oh, you sexy geek!

I’m fairly certain the embedded video for “G33k and G4m3r Girls” won’t work, so here it is:
And here’s the actual presentation I gave:

In July of last year at Comic-Con (the largest media convention in the country), a panel titled “Oh, You Sexy Geek!” purported to address the trend of female geeks dressing “sexy.” From the panel description:

Does displaying the sexiness of fangirls benefit or demean them? When geek girls show off, are they liberating themselves or pandering to men? Do some “fake fangirls” blend sex appeal with nerdiness just to appeal to the growing geek/nerd market, or is that question itself unfair? And what’s up with all the Slave Leias?

The discussion at Comic-Con was framed in terms of individual choices, not structural influences, and this limited the conclusions the panel could come to. The dichotomous choice offered—“Does displaying the sexiness of fangirls benefit or demean them? […] are they liberating themselves or pandering to men?”—fails to take into account the complexities of women’s positions in geek culture, the politics of cosplay, or how cultural ideals of beauty influence women’s fashion decisions and choices.Geek cultures—centered on video games, science fiction and fantasy, and comic books—are traditionally thought of as boys’ clubs. Even though women often make up half of geek populations, their roles in geek culture(s) are limited by the perceptions and actions of advertisers, producers, designers, marketers, and fans. Women are considered valuable additions to many geek cultures, but usually as decoration. Which means that most of the women “celebrated” in geek cultures are conventionally beautiful, thin, white, abled cis women who position themselves as sexy objects for male geek consumption, usually via cosplay. For the uninitiated, the term cosplay is a combination of “costume” and “roleplay” or “play,” and refers to when fans costume as characters or objects from their favorite media (like video games, movies, and TV shows). Cosplayers usually wear their costumes to conventions, and the “roleplay” aspect of cosplaying is often minimal in North America, and limited to the poses struck for photos or occasional interactions in the convention hallways.

This presentation will explore the ways in which female geeks’ choices are limited by geek cultures, how the trend of self-objectification among geek women can signal both a hostility towards women as equal participants and a resistance to that hostility, and how blaming women’s performances is a hand-waving exercise intended to gloss over the culture(s)’ problems.

The sexism that persists in geek communities is not special. It is not separable and inherently different than sexist institutions and behaviors in the “real world.” This means that the sexualization and objectification of women is not unique to geek cultures, though it is particularly severe in geek media. Video games, comics, science fiction, fantasy—these media forms are often at fault for promoting unrealistic (and, pretty regularly, physically impossible) standards of beauty for women. They fashion their female heroines and villains as sexy objects to be consumed, unlike male counterparts. Further, geek industries bring the objectification of women into the real world, hiring, for example, booth babes for conventions. Booth babes are conventionally attractive models hired by media companies to wear skimpy clothing and entice convention-goers to their respective booths. Geek women exist within this culture, which devalues their contributions as producers of media and meaning, but values their contributions as adornment.

This project is about self-objectification, not objectification by others, but the two are not wholly separable, any more separable than my putting on makeup and high heels this morning and the objectification of women in advertising and fashion magazines. Just as media representations of women influence women’s decisions to diet, wear cosmetics, get plastic surgery, lighten their skin, relax their hair, shave their legs, and wax their bikini lines, geek media representations of women influence geek women’s decisions to dress in “sexy” cosplay.

By “sexy” cosplay, I mean cosplay that appeals to heterosexual male fantasies, participates in the objectification of the cosplayer, and (purposefully or not) positions the cosplayer as an object for consumption by male geeks. There are two ways to participate in sexy cosplay; one is to choose a character whose costume is already sexy, and another to alter a character’s costume in order to make it sexy.

First, let’s look at cosplayers who do not alter their costumes. A rather visible example of this kind of sexy cosplay is women who costume as “slave Leia.” The Star Wars character has two main costumes that cosplayers choose from. [Next slide] The first, and least popular, is the costume from A New Hope. This is the costume with the iconic buns. [Next slide] The second, and more popular, Leia costume is “slave Leia,” the bikini-style costume worn by Leia in Return of the Jedi when she is the prisoner of Jabba the Hutt. At major science fiction media conventions, like Comic-Con and Dragon*Con, it is common to have an official group slave Leia picture, because of the popularity of this costume with cosplayers and other convention-goers. In the slave Leia cosplay, we see a classic example of sexy cosplay in which the costumer chooses a costume that is already heteronormatively “sexy.”

Next, let’s look at an example of a cosplayer who alters their costume to make them sexy. [Next slide] This is LeeAnna Vamp as Chewbacca from Star Wars, who is on the left. This cosplay was featured on IGN, a website about gaming and entertainment. Notice how Vamp positions herself compared with the actual Chewbacca. Chewbacca stands firmly and aggressively, feet apart to keep him stable. LeeAnna, on the other hand, stands off-center, with her legs together and crossed: a passive position. In the kneeling photo, her position suggests sexual availability and exposure (not sexual aggression), with a slightly open mouth and legs parted. These positions, along with her revealing costume, position LeeAnna as a sexual object for consumption. [Next slide]

In both altered and unaltered sexy cosplay, we thus see a desire to be seen as attractive by straight men. These women visually signal to a viewer (there’s always a viewer for cosplayers) that they are conforming to heteronormative beauty standards. They do this by positioning themselves as sexually receptive and passive; by wearing costumes that emphasize body parts that our culture associates with sex appeal, like breasts, hips, buttocks, and navels; and by emphasizing their femininity and conformity to beauty standards.

As Naomi Wolf points out The Beauty Myth, women in the U.S. are rewarded for capitulating to narrow and often impossible beauty standards. She claims that beauty is a currency, with which “women must unnaturally compete for resources that men have appropriated for themselves” (12). Ariel Levy’s exploration of raunch culture in Female Chauvinist Pigs demonstrates, however, that women must often do more than merely perform beauty work. She argues that “hotness doesn’t just yield approval. Proof that a woman actively seeks approval is a crucial criterion for hotness in the first place.” In a world of booth babes and sexy cosplay, this is apparent. What makes the sexy cosplay sexy is not merely that the cosplayers are thin, young, and buxom, but that they are performing and actively seeking male approval. [Next slide] For a particularly egregious example of this, I’m going to show you the video created by some geek women, mostly actresses, who formed a group called Team Unicorn. [play to 1:28] The video is very repetitive, so we can stop it there.

Almost everything about this video marks it as a performance in the service of geek men. Of course, the participants in the video, Team Unicorn, consist of young, thin, light-skinned women who conform to cultural beauty standards. There are a number of particularly porn-like shots, in which the young women are naked, strategically covered by light sabers, video game controllers, or DVDs, and on piles of geek toys, movies, or comic books. Meanwhile, the men in the intermittent shots do not match cultural standards of male beauty or masculinity. They wear cheap costumes and dance in awkward or silly ways. The women in the video wear sexy and high-quality costumes, and their dances mimic those of pop stars, which is to say, their dances are meant to appeal to straight male viewers. The video is also framed by Seth Green saying, “Hello friends. Don’t you want to meet a nice girl?,” positioning the video as an introduction to women as dating partners or sex objects. The video is not meant for geek women to view, and feel empowered by seeing representations of other geek women. It is meant to be viewed by men who wish to believe that, despite their own inability to meet cultural standards of masculinity, there are geek women available to them who are “sexy” in two ways: 1. These women do fit a physical standard of beauty, and 2. These women want to please men, want to be sexually appealing to them.

The video’s YouTube description claims, “This music video parody proves Geek and Gamer Girls really do exist.” Since, at the time, there had been multiple headlines proclaiming that women make up 50% of gamers and Comic-Con attendees, this description seems disingenuous. This is because geek women who are not “hot” are routinely ignored or erased in geek culture. This video would more accurately describe itself as “proof that conventionally sexy women who are also geeks want to have sex with you, presumed straight geek male viewer.”

Because geek women are often clearly aiming their performances at geek men, geek men and women often place blame on the women who dress this way. [Next slide] A comment on Geek Tyrant, written by a blogger who is posting a collection of “cosplay cleavage,” is illustrative. Venkman writes, “And ladies, maybe some of you will find these images offensive, but these are women that are dressing like this. We didn’t ask them to, they do it on their own, and if women dress like this, the fact of the matter is…guys are going to stare [sic].” This sentiment lands the blame for the objectification of geek women squarely on the shoulders of women, and characterizes men’s responses to these women as inevitable, natural, and uncontrollable. [Next slide] Needless to say, however, the images included in the blog post make it clear that these geek men feel they have nothing to apologize for. The blogger is not suggesting that men do not objectify women (after all, they go to cons to see “cleavage,” not to meet women or fellow geeks), but he refuses to accept responsibility for this. Rather, he suggests that women need to just accept that “guys are going to stare” at women who perform a certain version of “sexy.” It is thus women’s responsibility to prevent their own objectification. [Next slide]

There are some obvious problems in this kind of hand-waving exercise, but the most important one for us today is that one of the reasons geek women seek the approval of geek men is that geek men have positions of power and privilege in both geek industries and in geek fan communities. While women understand that sexy cosplay won’t get them respect, per se, they also know that it is most likely to get them positive attention, recognition, and limited acceptance in geek communities. Women who do not or cannot seek sexual approval from the male geek community are more likely to be ignored, derided, or dismissed. They are more likely to be called harpy feminists or annoying squeeing fangirls than to get approval and acceptance. Team Unicorn, for example, was rewarded generously for their performance with relative fame and funding for a slick new website. They also managed to buy legitimacy in this video with the inclusion of Seth Green and Stan Lee. One has to wonder, would Seth Green have agreed to a video proving the existence of female geeks if those geeks had been fat, queer, or disabled?

The pressure is on for geek women to position themselves as sexy consumable objects for geek men. When they do so, their decision is framed as a freely-made choice. On the other hand, men’s behavior in reaction to sexy cosplay, like leering, sexual harassment, or other forms of objectification, is usually framed as inevitable and natural. The pressure women feel to perform “sexy” for their fellow geeks is usually ignored or dismissed, and the conversation becomes similar to the “Oh, You Sexy Geek!” panel at Comic-Con, in which the problem is framed as about geek women, not geek culture. Are women selling out, or being empowered?

The answer to that question is that it’s more complicated. While women performing sexy for their fellow geeks are unquestionably doing so within a culture that encourages this performance and values women merely as decoration, they may also be using sexy cosplay to subvert that culture’s objectification of women.

In John Fiske’s Understanding Popular Culture, he describes jeans as objects of popular culture that can embody contradictory meanings. Jeans, he argues, have multiple meanings given to us by jean producers, such as associations with heteronormative femininity, youth, toughness, and/or hard work. These meanings come from the top, and represent the interests of those in power. People can tear their jeans (or write on them, or bleach them, or cut them off) to subvert and resist those meanings, but this doesn’t mean that the original meanings just go away. Rather, both meanings coexist in the garment simultaneously. According to Fiske, this means that popular culture objects, like jeans, “can entail the expression of both domination and subordination, of both power and resistance. So torn jeans signify both a set of dominant American values and a degree of resistance to them” (4). Sexy cosplay works in the same way. There are ways in which individual sexy cosplayers incorporate meanings resistant to the culture’s demand that they proffer themselves as consumable objects.

[Next slide] Olivia Waite, a geek and erotica writer, wrote about her personal experience with the slave Leia cosplay, after I had blogged a version of this essay at the Geek Feminism blog. Waite was a big fan of Star Wars when she was a child, and her favorite character was Leia, who she describes as “badass, intelligent, and passionate.”

She writes that when watching Return of the Jedi,

as soon as [Leia] shows up in the gold bikini, with the high ponytail and the neck-chain, every cell in my being went, She must be so pissed about that.

Because what people forget, when they talk about Slave Leia outfits, is that it’s the one costume she doesn’t choose for herself. She’s forced into it, compelled to wear that bikini for Jabba’s dubious and slobbery pleasure. And I can see why people are upset that this happens—because if there’s one thing we do not need to gratify so much, it’s the male gaze in film—but at the same time, I think it’s important that this happens to Leia, because it happens to plenty of women, all the time, every day, around the world, with or without help from a gold bikini.

And here is what Leia does, when you force her into a scanty outfit and choke-chain: she takes that chain, and she kills you with it. She doesn’t let her clothing get in her way or limit her more than she can help—she waits for her moment to strike, and then she conquers her would-be conqueror and saves the day.

And I was a little kid, not yet desensitized to violence […] Jabba’s death scene freaked the hell out of me. It wasn’t a clean blaster shot to the chest or a slice from a lightsaber that sent sparks flying or made you turn invisible. There were struggles, and flailing, and twitching limbs. The shots are close-ups, and very dark—it’s vicious, and vengeful, and physical, and very very personal.

So for me, wearing that gold bikini does not mean Here I am, a sexy toy for your amusement and gratification.

To me, that gold bikini says, If you fuck with me, I will end you.

It says, What I wear is not the same as who I am.

Waite’s is a particularly powerful example of how women can create subversive meanings in their sexy cosplay. Hers doesn’t even require an alteration in the costume, though it may include a more aggressive stance for pictures, or even a performance of the chain choking. But it is, all the same, resistant to the cultural meanings put onto the costume by the producers of Star Wars and by the powers that be in fan communities. In Waite’s cosplay, the gold bikini is a symbol of female power and resistance to objectification. At the same time, it holds those dominant meanings as well. It contains the raunch culture assumption that women are primarily valuable for their performance of “sexy” and a resistance to that gross objectification. It symbolizes the titillation of women in sexual slavery and a challenge to women’s subordinate status as the sex class. From my own experiences in geek fan cultures, I don’t believe Waite is an anomaly, a pioneering feminist geek who uses sexy cosplay to challenge the messages found in geek media and geek culture. There are others like her, whose sexy cosplays are also challenges to the status quo.

It is also important to note that not all cosplay (sexy or not) is progressive or oppositional, either. As Henry Jenkins points out in Textual Poachers,

To say that fans promote their own meanings over those of producers is not to suggest that the meanings fans produce are always oppositional ones or that those meanings are made in isolation from other social factors. Fans have chosen these media products from the total range of available texts precisely because they seem to hold special potential as vehicles for expressing the fans’ pre-existing social commitments and cultural interests; there is already some degree of compatibility between the ideological construction of the text and the ideological commitments of the fans and therefore, some degree of affinity will exist between the meanings fans produces and those which might be located through a critical analysis of the original story. […] Readers are not always resistant; all resistant readings are not necessarily progressive readings; the ‘people’ do not always recognize their conditions of alienation and subordination. (34)

That is to say, not all geek women recognize their conditions as alienated and subordinated members of geek cultures. Not all sexy cosplay is (or can be) oppositional or progressive, as Waite’s reading of the costume is. However, this does not mean that geek women are somehow to blame for their objectification. As Jenkins notes, fans make their choices in the context of their cultures, and not in isolation of social factors. The beauty myth, raunch culture, and the male domination of geek culture(s) all contribute to female fans’ choice in sexy cosplay, even if they choose to resist the meanings handed down from those in power. In order to fix the culture of objectification in geek culture, we cannot look to individual women and cosplayers, but rather to those in power, whether they be content creators (like George Lucas, Stan Lee, Felicia Day), influential commentators (like Chris Hardwick, Jerry Holkins, Mike Krahulik), convention organizers, or forum moderators. The problem here is not “self-objectification,” as my essay title suggests, but the pressure to perform sexy (or be ignored, derided, or dismissed). The fact is, “sexy” is not the only way that geek women represent themselves; it is merely the representation recognized and rewarded by geek culture at large. That has to change before the position of women in these culture(s) can change.

Works Cited

Fiske, John. Understanding Popular Culture. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2010. Print.

Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992. Print.

Levy, Ariel. Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. Kindle ed. New York: Free Press, 2005. AZW file.

“Oh, You Sexy Geek!” Panel at Comic-Con, 21 July 2011, 10:45 AM. My Comic-Con 2011 Sched*. Comic-Con, n.d. Web. 25 September 2011. < http://mysched.comic-con.org/event/c31518fe1aa3bb6b788ba63757b84fba&gt;

Venkman. “Collection of Cosplay Cleavage.” Geek Tyrant. Geektyrant, 15 July 2011. Web. 9 April 2012.

Waite, Olivia. “In Defense of Slave Leia.” Olivia Waite. Olivia Waite, 29 August 2011. Web. 8 April 2012.

Wolf, Naomi. The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1991. Print.

nightsky & five

Femme Doctors and crossplayers: Not that different

Cross-posted at Doctor Her.

Post-Gallifrey, I was interviewed at i09 about the phenomenon of femme Doctor cosplay. If you’re not familiar with it, femme cosplay is when female cosplayers alter the costumes of male characters to make them feminine. Femme cosplayers add ruffles, lace, heels, alter the silhouette of a costume (often with a corset), etc.

A femme Jackson Lake A femme Jackson Lake sports a corset and long coat. Photo by Alex Halcyon.

This trend is often contrasted with crossplaying. Crossplayers are usually female cosplayers who alter their bodies to costume as male characters. (Male crossplayers dress as female characters.) Unlike their femme counterparts, they will bind their breasts, wear men’s wigs, and wear makeup designed to mask feminine features. Generally, people think these trends are at odds; they believe that femme Doctors and crossplay Doctors are doing very different things.

A femme Eighth DoctorsquirrelyTONKS is a bit of a femme Doctor superstar at the Gallifrey convention. Photo by Alex Halcyon.

A snippet from the interview:

Both crossplay and femme cosplay draw attention to gender. Women passing as men are destabilizing gender by illustrating how easy it is to perform the opposite gender, by showing that all gender performance is performance, since cosplay is fundamentally performative. Femme cosplay does the same thing: it draws attention to the performance of gender, but this time femininity. […]

So really, crossplay and femme cosplay are not that different. Both alter their bodies, showing that no matter what gender they are playing, their bodies often don’t match any ideal. While crossplayers wear binders, femme cosplayers wear corsets and heels. But their motivations are the same: they emphasize the performative nature of gender, and thus destabilize it. Women do this more because they have more to gain by destabilizing gender, being at the bottom rung of the gender hierarchy.

I have quite a bit more to say about how I think femme Doctor cosplay (and crossplay) is a feminist critique of Doctor Who and its fan community, so go read it!

two femme fivesTwo femme Fifth Doctors with cropped jackets…and celery! Photo by Alex Halcyon.
Row of women archers, University of Wisconsin Digital Collections CC BY 2.0

Quick Hit: Dogs and Smurfs; Why women writers and stories about women are taken less seriously

This has been a great year for male writers, with women shunted aside for major prizes and all-new hand-wringing about why it is so. Because, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but male writers get taken more seriously. Also, stories about men, even if written by women, are considered mainstream, while stories about women are “women’s fiction.” This despite the fact that women read more than men, and write more, and are over-represented generally throughout publishing.

As the father of two girls, one aged five and one ten months, I know why. It’s because of dogs and Smurfs. I can’t understand why no-one else realizes this. I see these knotted-brow articles and the writers seem truly perplexed. Dogs and Smurfs: that’s the answer.

Read the rest here. I don’t think it’ll be news to any of you, but it’s a nicely put together article worth sharing.

BGG (Black Girl Gamer)–LFG, PST!

Cori Roberts is founder of Gameinatrix.com and remaining founding member of Gamer Girls Radio, and has been involved in gaming media for over 8 years. She’s currently obsessed with the MMO Fallen Earth and anything involving vampires in the world of Second Life.

This post was originally published at The Border House.

A well-dressed black woman holds a machine gun.

African American (black) woman from the recent Call of Duty commercial. One of the very few times a black woman has been used in the marketing of any game.

While several gamers are fighting for the right to game with all the controversy surrounding the community as of late, there are a few of us women gamers waging another kind of war in our own respective communities. It’s not just the standard girl gamer war, where there is incessant name calling, references to genitalia or even the normal male chauvinist crap. The battle is having to defend why we are even playing games, in the first place. Why would “we” be playing games, because black women don’t play games.

I’m one of these elusive, mythical, Black (African American for you new kiddies) women gamers who purportedly do not exist. While this particular battle is not a boss battle for me, it is an annoying and repetitive battle. It’s one I have to wage most every time I encounter a new “sistah” who can barely operate her iPhone, but thinks she is somehow more versed in games and who should be playing them, than I am. The first thing I’m asked is how I ended up even playing games, like it’s a disease I somehow contracted. Then I’m told how “different” and “odd” I am. My mother bought me my first console at age six and I never knew I was any different from other little girl. Never knew I was a geek, a nerd, or any other derivative until I was much older. However, after I realized I was one of these beings, referred to as a geek, I kept it secret and tried hard to suppress it. I can tell you I use to rent games at Block Buster and often lied about who they were for. Once out on my own, gaming became part my regular daily routine. Get up, school, work, come home, game. When I couldn’t afford to go clubbing, you’d find me on the floor of my furniture-less apartment, head propped up with pillows, faithful dog at my side, playing games. The only thing I bought other than games was clothes. Come on, I’m still a girl! It should suffice to say, I obviously don’t fit the mold of fat white guy, with glasses. I was a thin shapely black chick with glasses (used to wear glasses anyway), who spent her free time perusing not only Cosmo magazine, but strategy guides in now defunct Electronics Boutique. The guys began to love when I came into EB every Friday, because other guys followed me in and they stayed to chat when they realized I actually loved games just as much as they did. Me, wearing my designer perfume and clothes, could take a guy down in Tekken in 30 seconds flat. After getting over the shock of being beaten by me, I always had a new friend and finally there in EB I stopped feeling odd and out of place. I fit in somewhere. However the older I got, the more dissonance I noticed with other black women once I mentioned video games or anything geeky for that matter. All of those silent lunches finally lead to me speaking up and a mini-battle royale about the Lifetime Network and gaming where I schooled my “sistah” on the world of gaming and technology. I also shared with her that technology is an area where black women were being left in the dust. Most of us are still taught and truly believe as black women, it’s just our not our place to be “smart”. Before the eye rolling begins, this is not true of all women of color, but it’s true enough. So true that I still have yet to pick up an Essence, Ebony, or Jet magazine and see an entire tech section (not to pick on Essence, this is true of a lot of women’s magazines). Hip Hop mags like XXL do share some tech info with its readers, but tend to have more male readers than females. It’s also still true that most black women tend to steer clear of the whole technology thing and can barely use an iPhone, let alone know which cables go where on their Xbox. While we’re excelling in other areas, still some black women view the gaming industry as a childish and MALE one. As a result, our presence in the world of tech and gaming is lagging far behind the rest of the world.

As a Black woman (I prefer being called Black to African American, I didn’t move here from Africa and become American, I was born here), I find it disheartening that even so many of our notable Black public figures and role models don’t even acknowledge the gaming culture unless it’s the latest fad. For instance Oprah Winfrey has had a show or two about gaming addiction and how horrid gaming is, only to give away the Kinect on her show later. As a gamer I was not impressed or fooled. I once heard Tyra Banks say on her show something akin to she thought men were so childish playing games, and she hated when her man did it. Women don’t wanna play games, chile! These women are considered great role models and several young women look up to them. I wonder if they know the message they are sending to young black women. Yes you’re teaching them that beauty is subjective, but are teaching them that technology is for those other folk. This, in my opinion, will lead to a nation of beautiful black women who are technologically incompetent. They will know the best way to maintain their weave but not how to change out a faulty hard drive. Or even how to do something as simple as defrag a hard drive.

Take note, most of the women you’ll see fighting for a place in the gaming industry usually are not of ethnicity. I explained to my friend the facts and figures of the gaming industry, and how our lives as black women should not be all about being a nurse (this is a common thing in the black community, pushing daughters to be nurses or get into law, go after the money), but instead embracing a new culture, a culture that does in fact make a LOT of money, a culture that, though considered controversial at times, is indeed the future. A culture where most times, our differences are celebrated, not hated. Ok, perhaps I’m pushing the Utopia envelope here, but aside from a very few assholes, I’ve NEVER been called out for the color of my skin. Admittedly, I hail from several racial backgrounds, but I identify as being your average garden variety, Diva, black, woman. I pointed out to her that I’ve never been told I wasn’t dressed appropriately to game. That my manicure to was too old to game. That I wasn’t black enough to game. The only thing that has ever held me back is not having the SAME game as a gamer buddy.

Said friend turned her head to look out the window and quietly said to me, “I just don’t get it…you gamers…” But she did call a few months later sounding bubbly and told me she’d bought her first console. Yes it was a Wii, but she was planning on getting an Xbox, as well. She’d seen some “interesting’ things at Game Stop that she actually wanted to play. But I dare say if I hadn’t opened my mouth, if I hadn’t in essence said that gaming as entertainment is okay, she would never have played. Though I’ve managed to bring some of my friends to the dark side, I still have to deal with strangers form assumptions based on the fact that I’m a gamer. If I’m in Best Buy or any store’s PC section, I still get the tech behind the desk who feels the need to try to explain to me every detail of my video card and how it works, where to install it on my motherboard. I hate the condescension in their voice and this is after I’ve told them a million and one times that I’m a gamer. I have every console, (except the 3DS, but give me time) and even a gaming PC, that I built myself, from scratch, even after I tell them I run a gaming website and podcast and have for 8 years. They don’t hear me until I get a little belligerent and then they are shocked and awed. The next thing is to test me, because it’s just impossible to them that black woman as a gamer exists. I am always told that of course I must not be hard core, no woman is. I can tell you that I am indeed as hardcore as they come. And just because I may wear a weave, wig, extensions or like shoes, doesn’t detract from that. I’d like to tell my fellow “sistahs” that yes, you can be fabulous, and play games, and know how your iPhone works. I do not find it cute or charming when you have a beautiful piece of technology and you use it more as a status symbol and can’t even figure out how to make a simple call. You can be smart, and know how to fix your own PC, iPhone, or hook up your own HDTV and then feel extra proud to sit down and watch your Sex in the City re-runs, without having to call your man over to do it for you. I am hoping one day to be in the store and not have to tell another black woman to buy games for her daughter, not just her son, and not hear the mother say she won’t like it, when clearly the little girl is interested. I’d like to see more black women put their daughters in front of a computer and push them to learn more math, science and physics. But sadly I see this particular battle as a very long one. While I am graced to have a few black women who do share my passion for gaming, my white girlfriends (whom I love just as much) far outnumber the black ones. I do wish I had more black gaming girlfriends (and in the same city would be nice) so this black girl can stop constantly LFG.

Across the calculus sections, women outperformed men on grades.

This post was originally published at Restructure!

Several recent studies have suggested that the gender gap in STEM fields is caused not by bias, but simply by different choices made by men and women. What the new research shows, Dasgupta said, is choice isn’t as simple as people think. “People assume that these choices are free choices, based on talent and interest and motivation,” Dasgupta said. “But these data suggest that the meaning of choices, of what it means to choose math or science, is more complicated. Even talented people may not choose math or science not because they don’t like it or are not good at it, but because they feel that they don’t belong.”

Inoculation Against Stereotype by Scott Jaschik (Inside Higher Ed)

Continue reading

If tech discussion was really about tech, it wouldn’t be sexist.

Cross-posted at Restructure!

There is sexism in tech culture. However, I continue to love tech, because I think of the sexism as a separate, unnecessary appendage to pure tech. I cannot think of sexism as intrinsic to or inevitable in tech, because then I would be either self-hating, or I would have to give up my love for technology. Maybe my personal ontology is compartmentalized thinking in order to survive as a woman in tech, but I think it’s also true.

Some people argue that for tech to “attract” women, the culture needs to be broadened to include humanistic aspects. However, this proposal may derive from the implicit sexist assumption that men really are better at tech, and women really are better at the humanities.

Actually, what I hate most about tech news sites is that when I go there for technology news, there are off-topic comments about love and relationships. It’s typically men discussing being single; having trouble with women; being Nice GuysTM; giving advice about what women really want; talking about how women have it easier; bragging about how even their grandmother/mother/wife can use technology X; and other sexist generalizations about women. In other words, the idea that pure tech scares away women, that tech culture is currently free of human influence, is a product of male privilege and the inability to recognize that the state of being male is not the state of being neutral.

Continue reading

“Creepy” means something different for men and women.

Novelist Margaret Atwood writes that when she asked a male friend why men feel threatened by women, he answered, “They are afraid women will laugh at them.” When she asked a group of women why they feel threatened by men, they said, “We’re afraid of being killed.”

- via Mary Dickson’s A Woman’s Worst Nightmare (trigger warning on link for description / discussion of violence against women)