Just told Ada courted Marie Claire for feature saying hacker culture is hostile to women. (I saw a MC press @ BSides) Anyone confirm/deny?
— violet blue ® (@violetblue) March 12, 2013
So, I felt a response, a take from my unique perspective of being black, male, a nerd or geek, and at 50, was necessary. Here goes.
Geek Culture exists because of male feelings of insecurity. Let’s repeat that: Geek Culture exists because of male immature feelings of insecurity. That’s not intended to be hostile, coming from one who has been considered a nerd, before the word ‘geek’ replaced it; it’s just plain true. (And now there are people who say that geeks and nerds are different – oh, brother!)
In my life, the idea of a person who was so into their studies, or science, and any aspect of pop-culture narrowly related to that that they had no time for standard social contact was associated with boys. That person was often shy, and withdrawn – until they were around like-minded people. As for girls, they were used to being put down by them, until the girl needed help with homework. At that point, the boy very often got his first taste of what it was like to be used. Thinking he won the girl, he realized that the only thing he won was her friendship, which came as long as he had the answers, but he didn’t win her affection.
So, the boy grows to be a teenager, and during that time pays the most attention to that which gives him the most reward: study and creative expression via invention. Girls who come do so because they want to be associated with what the boy’s doing – some stick around, most don’t. Most make fun of him, but by his older teen years, he’s used to it, though he doesn’t like it.
Then, usually in college, the boy creates something that has the potential to have a profound impact on the World. A major corporation buys it, or he happens to meet a deep-pockets benefactor who helps him. Over the period of years that person’s creation becomes a major corporation, and suddenly getting girls is not a problem.
But something else happens too.
That boy’s success becomes a model for other boys who think they have the same issues to deal with – now, they have an out. One that wasn’t available to them in past generations. For those boys, girls who have dissed them become part of the outside World.
Something else too. Historically, because so many African American men have been denied an education, but not athletic expression – and because the kind of mechanical pursuits that a boy would turn to take some money that the black kids’ family was less likely to have in the past – that person’ was less likely to be a nerd. But what changed in the 1960s, with the rise of civil rights laws, was also a largely undocumented rise in the black boy who was a nerd. What that boy experienced in the past, and still exists to a much smaller degree today, is not only how girls respond to them, but also being called “white.” And on top of that, if that boy was in a mostly white environment, he also had to deal with the racism from the same “nerd” white boys who weren’t used to seeing images of smart black men.
So, advance to today, and what do we have? An entire culture of boys who are smart and used to be ostracized by women and that has evolved and grown with digital media, and in many cases caused the advancement of it. Many of them are “hackers.” But also the idea of being a geek has been taken over by popular culture – that’s the weirdest development of all.
When I was young, every person I know who you would now call a geek was into some aspect of science, be it engineering or physics. For me, it was civil engineering, which morphed into city planning and an interest in the future of cities by the time I was 17. Moreover, the women I knew who were part of our Star Trek Club at Bret Harte Junior High School were studying math and science, for the most part.
During that passage time, we have had a new generation of women who don’t have the ideas that lead them to play ‘traditional’ roles – many of them take on the same nerd pursuits of their male counterparts, but with a large caveat: just as the black nerd kid has to deal with claims of “acting white, she has to deal (at times) with the parental idea that what she does is not lady-like.
She seeks common ground with a set of guys who are wired to think women aren’t into them, and thus the idea that hackers (male) are hostile to women. My point is, I don’t think the hostility is intentional, but the long product of generations of evolution. Bascially, it’s all the parents fault – for not getting Johnny away from the books and comics and out into society. For society to make fun of nerds and to call smart black boys “white.”
Something else has happened, too. Being a geek is now strongly associated with some aspect of pop-culture, and not science. Personally, that’s a development I’m not happy with, because its translated into the dismantlement of the same space program that put men on the moon when I was a boy. Funding for space has nose-dived as pop-culture became disassociated with science and more associated with fantasy, taking a good set of geeks and nerd with it along the way. Now, someone can say they’re a geek because they’re into a musical on TV called Glee – that was unheard of in the past.
As proof of how Geek Culture has moved away from science, many of our digital communications advances can be traced back to Star Trek for their inspiration, like the iPad and the iPhone. But there’s nothing, no equivalent development that can be said to come from Star Wars.
Geek Culture isn’t what it used to be, but it still has not entirely escaped its origins, those based on male feelings of insecurity.
The good news is all of this is changing, and dramatically because of digital media and its impact on society, combined with generational change. But it’s going to produce some major rubs between sub cultures that we’re just going to have to go through to get to the other side.
But here’s the bad news: when we get to that point, there’s going to be a new set of issues all over again.