This post was originally published at Restructure!
I have been a geek for most of my life. However, my geek identity is rarely recognized in meatspace interactions, probably because I am female. You would expect that people’s assumptions about the science, math, and tech abilities of girls and women would be challenged upon encountering female geeks in real life, but I have found that being a female geek actually reinforces sexist convictions that girls and women do not really belong in science, math, and tech.
I remember when I won some physics award in high school, a male rival complained bitterly in the library that the physics award he felt he should have won ended up going to “some girl”. He actually said that, emphasizing the word girl, as if my very gender invalidates my right to win a physics award. He complained loudly on purpose so that I would overhear the barb. I was shocked that people could say such blatantly sexist things in [current year], in which sexism was no longer supposed to exist, especially among my youthful generation. Instead of challenging gender stereotypes, my physics geekery apparently reinforced this guy’s perception that male rights are being eroded by uppity females who get awards we don’t really deserve. If he remembers me at all, he probably won’t remember me as the geeky girl in the library, but as some bitch from high school.
I remember, in high school, when my father questioned me about why I was receiving so many phone calls from guys recently, and I explained to him that they were calling about physics. He then said, “Why would they ask you about physics?” He thought that I was lying and then basically accused me of whoring around with multiple boyfriends, a reflection of his patriarchal paranoia regarding sexual purity rather than anything I did. Apparently, the possibility that I might actually be good at physics could not be seriously entertained, and alternate explanations, no matter how far-fetched, were given more credence. Instead of challenging gender stereotypes, my success in high school physics led to suspicions and speculations about my (female) sexuality.
Both these examples demonstrate that (i) people may not recognize female geekery when they see it, due to sexist confirmation bias; (ii) people may interpret evidence of female geekery instead as evidence that sexist stereotypes are “true”, due to sexist confirmation bias; and (iii) female geeks experience additional sexism that non-geek women and male geeks do not experience.