Amber is a Capital Markets Technology consultant who currently works on Wall Street making trading platforms suck less. If she’s not online kicking ass in PvP, you can probably find her somewhere on the Lower East Side, kicking ass on the pool table. She blogs at idiosyncratic-routine.com.
[Content warning for ablist language in the excerpts]
Leslie Sobonâ€™s blog post â€œGet a Geek in Five Easy Stepsâ€ was a maelstrom of fail. In an Engadget editorial piece, Laura June has done a great job of explaining why the advice is terrible:
This piece is on an official AMD blog, and Leslie Sobon is writing in her capacity as the vice president of one of the companyâ€™s departments. As such, her attempt at lame Carrie Bradshaw-isms are out of place, unprofessional and an embarrassment to the company that she works for, even if thereâ€™s a standard â€œopinions expressed hereâ€ disclaimer attached to the blog.
Its perception of women:
Sobonâ€™s advice is like any ladiesâ€™ magazine from the 1950â€™s, in that she assumes you have nothing in common with your prey (you are man hunting, are you not?), that you never will, and that thatâ€™s okay. In fact, changing everything about your actual self in favor of a new, improved, less truthy â€œnerdyâ€ girl is the best way to go about catching one of these rare and beautiful creatures.
Its perception of geeks:
Sobon, who has worked in the â€œhigh techâ€ industry for most of her professional life (she put in eight years at Dell before joining AMD in 2006), seems to have only encountered a pop cultural stereotype of nerds, not actual human beings.
Correct on all counts, yet the Engadget response barely scratches the surface of the reasons I was filled with enough rage to track the author down on twitter and give her more than 140 characters of my mind.
Before jumping ahead, though, letâ€™s tackle the idea that the piece was meant as â€œhumorous,â€ â€œtongue-in-cheek,â€ or as a [poorly executed] â€œsatire.â€
Exhibit A: Sobonâ€™s July 2010 AMD blog post entitled â€œWhat Women Wantâ€:
There are a lot of mixed messages here. For example, women donâ€™t like â€œpinkâ€ marketing, but also donâ€™t buy â€œblackâ€ computers. We â€œdonâ€™t like buying PCs,â€ but account for 66% of the market. Unlike the â€œGet a Geekâ€ article, she throws out a perfunctory nod to women who build their own computers, but notes that technical jargon can be detrimental to the buying experience.
Moving past the lack of innovative thought or cohesive message, the â€œWhat Women Wantâ€ article indicates that Sobon truly believes that the average female PC shopper is a bastion of female stereotypes â€“ relying on word of mouth rather than technical specifications, disregarding price for emotional connection, yearning for a luxury buying experience, eschewing in-depth knowledge of the product to be purchased, and caring more about form than function.
For my dollar, sheâ€™s probably not wrong. Most women donâ€™t run overclocked, water-cooled systems, work in science or technology based industry or know the difference between an FPS and an RPG. But guess what â€“ most men donâ€™t either.
Sobon has fallen prey to the fallacy that the amalgamative line-of-best-fit woman she has created as a tool to sell the most widgets (she is, after all, trying to pitch AMD products at the end of the day) represents the majority of women in reality. Sheâ€™s shoved aside all the diversity of women that donâ€™t fit her model and written to a fictional audience that, should it actually exist, is unlikely to cull its dating tactics from the blog of a company that produces tiny things in sterile rooms.
The map is not the territory.
I could forgive Sobon this transgression if she were a lowly Marketing Department lackey, stuck churning out clip art laden PowerPoints all day. In fact, I could see a variety of these â€œWhat Women Wantâ€ points being used internally to jumpstart a brainstorming session for a new advertising campaign. (Not that they should, but Iâ€™ve worked in product development, and trust me â€“ the internal vision of the end consumer is rarely flattering.)
But PowerPoint lackey sheâ€™s not. Leslie Sobon is the Corporate Vice President of Product Marketing for AMD. She should be the one to encounter an article like â€œGet a Geekâ€ and stare slack-jawed at her monitor, wondering what kind of lack of oversight would allow something so amateurish to exist on a corporate sponsored blog.
Iâ€™m not going to waste space bullet pointing the outdated and incredibly inaccurate assumptions that most women are computer illiterate temptresses who will date someone with whom they have little in common, so long as the rewards package is good enough â€¦ and that all geeks (who are all male in the first place) are poor dressers, uninterested in sports and are so hard up for female attention that they will become captivated with any woman who deigns to speak to them at a â€œTweetUp.â€ Rather, letâ€™s take a look at the more insidious assumptions which perpetuate a system where my tweet positing the articleâ€™s sexism garners me replies such as â€œThe article is definitely guilty of playing to gender roles, but sexist it is not.â€
Donâ€™t worry, the same user takes the time to educate me about what sexism is:
Sexism is the belief or attitude that one gender is inferior to, less competent, or less valuable than the other.
Thanks for that. Again, Iâ€™m not going to belabor the many ways in which the article implies women are less likely to be competent users of technology and more likely to be ok with subjugating their interests to that of a male, while that male need not pander to hers, or even the axiomatic heteronormative perspective.
Rather, there are more subtle turns of phrase that reinforce sexism specifically with relation to the geek community. As a femme woman who works in technology, an avid sci-fi gamer type, and dater of more than one â€œgeekyâ€ guy, this is the stuff that just chaps my ass:
- Implicit association between a Good Man and a Geek
Some men are geeks. Some men are douchebags. Some men who are geeks are douchebags. Shocking!!! In fact, the historically anti-female (or female devoid, at best) stereotypical male geek environment has been the basis for some good articles about why geeks arenâ€™t the answer to every girlâ€™s relationship woes.
- Lack of any discussion about a male non-geek trying to get a female geek
Some women are geeks. Some women arenâ€™t very good at getting laid. Some women who are geeks arenâ€™t very good at getting laid. Granted â€“ this advice is just as terrible when the gender roles are reversed, but a nod to the possibility of trying to woo a female geek would have gone a long way to mitigating the fail.
- Assumption that a geeky guy could or would be useful in every broken-technology/stuff scenario
Writing QA scripts for 10 hours a day does not magically imbue one with the ability to troubleshoot my wifi connection. Similarly, being a network administrator doesnâ€™t magically imbue one with the ability or desire to dig up my yard and fix a broken sprinkler.
- Implication that women would rather secure access to specialized labor/skills via â€¦ letâ€™s call it â€œsexual outsourcingâ€â€¦ than by learning to do things that are useful themselves, while men wander around aimlessly, waiting to be objectified for said labor/skills, devoid of any desire to see seen as complex people with emotional needs.
The basic premise that geeks are useful because your gadgets break (which, uh, I thought women didnâ€™t actually use in the first place) is as ridiculous as saying you get sick a lot, so date a doctor, or you have a lot of legal problems, so bag a lawyer. Itâ€™s a wonder any mechanics in New York ever get dates. So few women in the city own cars.
- A womanâ€™s ultimate goal is to get married
â€œMost geeks donâ€™t wear pants. They wear jeans or shorts. Just get over it and wait for the ring to diversify his wardrobe.â€
â€¦There are no words.
The bottom line is that Leslie Sobonâ€™s writing is lazy and it reinforces gender and subculture stereotypes. Remembering that Sobon was writing for the least common denominator of a mythical female softens the blow somewhat, should she have been sixteen and posting to her tumblr blog. As an article directed at a general adult audience on the official blog of a publicly traded technology company, however, it is inexcusable.