If you police nerdy interests, you’re participating in the patriarchy

In Uncategorized on September 5, 2011 by knightofsummer

Questions of nerd policing are questions of gender, capitalism and patriarchy.

Patriarchy is the system that values masculine traits over female traits in order to ensure paternity and orderly inheritance. It consists of carrots and sticks: if people conform to the stereotypical expectations of patriarchy they are rewarded, if they deviate from them then are punished. This is true for everyone, whether they have the opportunity to change their deviations or not. There is literature out there about how this affects both women and men; today I will be focusing for a little while on men.

The expectations placed on men are directly antithetical to much of nerd culture. Men are expected to find a wife based on her physical beauty and prioritize her over everything but financial success, whereas due to low numbers nerds have often prioritized long-distance interactions with people they may have never met. Men are supposed to be physically fit, healthy and prepared to participate in violence, which may be impossible for some people and unimportant to others. Men are suppose to prioritize and desire sexual congress with women over all other interests, regardless of sexual orientation or asexuality. They are supposed to participate in complex courtship rituals rather than speak plainly, openly and honestly about their desires. They are required to be afraid of and ashamed of some of the things they are required to be. Most of all if any of the conflict inherent in fulfilling all these requirements and still being an empathetic person bothers him, a man is still not supposed to have or express emotions other than anger. Even anger, though, isn’t safe, especially if targeted against other violence-ready men, which leaves misogyny as the only outlet for frustrations at living in a misogynistic world.

The cognitive dissonance inherent in modern masculinity: it is great. And I haven’t even touched intersectionality here, or cultural specificity and switching. Still, the punishment for failure includes becoming classified as “not man enough”, which makes one a socially-sanctioned target for the violent displays of masculinity by other men. While much of the outright violent dynamics resolve themselves after college, social ostracism is still a powerful and punitive force.

Why does being a geek conflict with these requirements anyway? What is the cardinal sin of the geeky? I believe it is simple, “we care too much.”

In our society the word “care” is generally considered a feminine trait. It also carries negative connotations in nearly any context other than childrearing. It suggests that someone prioritizes something (anything, really) over social conformation and upholding the status quo. While this is a double-bind for mothers (citation: ), it is flat out disparaged when expressed by anyone else. I propose that the defining characteristic of nerds is a feminine trait with negative connotations that gets in the way of a homogenous society.

The stereotype of a nerd is two parts social awkwardness and one part femininity. Thus, in order to be sufficiently manly as to escape punishment, geeky men must balance out any nerdy traits they have with otherwise conforming, and sometimes hyper-conforming, to the patriarchal expectations. Now that some nerdy pursuits have become highly profitable this is easier than it used to be: financial success, in a capitalist system, may be sufficient evidence of masculinity all on its own. But the influence of fear-based assertions of masculinity can still be found everywhere.

Because, unfortunately, to redeem itself, nerdy culture has too often taken the patriarchy-upholding tact of asserting that the things nerds do are manly. Video games aren’t childish, they are manly! We rehearse war and disparage women! Roleplaying isn’t childish or feminine! We rehearse war and disparage women! Fantasy isn’t childish or feminine! … you get the idea. This is too bad, because to make each of these things manly is to inherently, artificially limit what they are allowed to be and erases huge swaths of what they already are. When Wil Wheton stands up at PAX and says “the nerds have won!” I can’t help but think, “…by becoming everything we were originally in opposition to.”

One of the many things erased and ignored by a masculinized nerd-culture is the huge number of children and women who are, and always have been, members of it. So far, I haven’t talked about either women or children. It’s not because these groups aren’t important, but because patriarchy hasn’t invested them with the power to redefine whole hobbies and even industries in order to exclude people. They have agency, and their actions can help uphold or undermine the patriarchy, but ultimately any rejection of patriarchy has include men who rebel against it instead of simply stretching definitions by excluding women from previously-feminine pursuits or children from activities considered previously acceptable for children. By defining themselves in opposition to real people, geeky men contribute to systematic oppression.

However, when non-geeky people define themselves in opposition to geeks, they are also contributing to oppression. Even if it is oppression of a predominantly otherwise-privileged group, that doesn’t excuse it. Pretending that it’s okay to disparage nerds because they are all white, cis, middle class, well-educated, temporarily able bodied men ignores the real harm that such attacks do to those people, much less to all the nerds who don’t fit those categories, and to everyone else who is harmed by the on going system of patriarchal gender oppression. The image of nerds as all being otherwise-privileged is just wrong.

Geek feminism is but one of many feminism and related movements, but it is one that is desperately needed by geeks of all genders.


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