There are moments in life that get under your skin, and leave you altered. Sometimes, if we are lucky, these moments catch us unawares, and open our eyes to an entirely new perspective, a reality outside of our own personal sphere that broadens our horizons immeasurably. But, all too often, they open our eyes to the smallness in our world. The intentional, or unintentional marginalizing and belittling of…the je ne se qua, the evasive, and illusive, it that makes you feel uncomfortable, annoyed, or downright angry, but does so in a way that flippantly and blithely evades an explanation of those feelings on your part: The subversive, frequently unintentional, and almost always endemic snub. This is a brief discussion of two such experiences in my life, one that took place almost three decades ago, and one, much more recent that it has taken me months to sort through…t0 discover the ness of my discontent. It all began when I was seven years old…
In 1985, Robert Ballard (yes, that guy that Jack is always talking about on 30 Rock) and the Woods Hole expedition discovered the resting place of the Titanic. For the average seven year old kids in Memphis, Tennessee, this was probably a blip on their radar of “aw, COOL!” things that happened that year. For me, it was transformative. To this day, I cannot quite explain the whys or wherefores. I have vivid recall of watching the film taken by ARGO, the unmanned sub that reached the ship itself. I obsessed over Titanic. I left no stones unturned. I read whatever I could get my hands on, and when I had exhausted that subject I moved on to, The Hindenburg, Jack the Ripper, The Triangle Factory fire (and other historic tragedies), and then Shakespeare, who opened the door for me to the world of English, then European history, which lead to the study of religions, which lead to Eastern religion, which led to the occult, which brought us right back around to more history, all the while also discovering, through these same avenues, Tolkien, Peter S. Beagle, Ursula K. LeGuin, Peirs Anthony, and Joseph Campbell (I have The Power of Myth all but memorized) who gave me Star Wars, Indiana Jones… and so on and so forth and a full run on sentence’s worth…of how the very essence of the ness that is me came in to being…While I was never discouraged in my nerdiness, I was also not particularly encouraged either. I didn’t have a geek role model or someone to impress. It was mine alone. It was all there waiting, just for me, and it was amazing. I remember feeling a thing my seven year old brain had no words for; the immensity, the hugeness of the event, the tragedy out of the past, and the sheer joy in the voices of the scientists as they viewed, for the first time the necrotic, rusty, majesty that was the living thing that had once been The Titanic. That is the moment when I officially became a nerd.
It was undoubtedly a formative experience, and a moment of the horizon broadening kind. I have mostly reveled in my small geeky world, and been very lucky to be surrounded by my fellows, who support me. Since becoming the mother of two girls, however, I have become painfully aware of a trend in the language and assumptions of the still male dominated kingdom of the dorks. This was the cause of moment number two. I am not using proper names in this telling, because I don’t want these guys getting any flak. I am 99.9% sure that everything I am about to relate was unintentional…which is exactly the point. It is indicative of a much larger issue that is so ingrained we don’t even notice it half the time. (Unless you are me, and it gets under your skin. AKA…you nerd-out over it.)
One of my friends writes for an “all things geek,” kind of website. Sometimes they answer reader questions. Being a nerd/geek girl, and knowing it is an all male write staff, I wrote in and asked them to give voice to the pervasive idea that geek girls are somehow less than, fakes, or not worthy of the “geek,” moniker. The response was very candid, and honest. The writer (not my friend) very pointedly said that men can be jerks, and geek world is often viewed as a “boys’ club.” He also freely admitted that he thinks that point of view is silly…but then he concluded by saying, “Being beat by a girl (even as an adult man) is the worst feeling…” I really wanted to be okay of his answer. It was full of mea culpa-ing, and the attempt to blame it all on guys being jerks, but that last bit left a bitter taste in my mouth. When my husband read it, he was also a bit off-put by the seeming contrast. So we both posted responses in the comment section. We made very similar points, we both addressed the fact that the author stated being beat by a girl was the worst feeling, we both spoke with passion…
In defense of the author, he did, at least respond, however, he chose to very pointedly (whether it was intentional or not) respond only to my husband. While this was happening, the friend who writes for the site was messaging me and asking questions because he quickly realized it (women in geek culture) was a bigger issue that needed to be discussed. I had high hopes, but one thing or another happened, and the article was never written. (Because, c’mon…would you want to tackle that subject?) Then, last night, the same friend messaged me with another geek culture question. He is writing a piece on what it is like to be married to a nerd, and he wondered if I would answer some questions for him…but he only sent those questions to me, and not to my husband…the accidental implications were not lost on me. Again, I want to stress that this guy is a wonderful human being. The fact that he probably didn’t even think about it doesn’t make him a jerk. It makes him normal. That is the problem. We still live in a world where, when someone says, “doctor,” “scientist,” or “geek,” even the most outspokenly feminist of us likely pictures a man first. It’s BS, and it’s something no one wants to admit, but it is also true. Honestly, had the other two incidents with the other writer not already occurred, this probably would have passed me by unnoticed. Instead, it hit me like a ton of bricks. “Oh my gods, it is 2013, and I am still being defined by my menfolk!”
I think that this issue certainly goes beyond geek/nerd culture, but it manifested in my world in this form, and so…I was a nerd long before the opposite sex began having an influence on my likes and dislikes. A seven year old girl obsessively reading about bog bodies in the corner of the library is, trust me, not doing it to attract male attention. Neither did I have a strong paternal or fraternal influence that can be held responsible. My fathers were more or less absent, and my older brother was a cool kid. (Oh, MAN was he cool.) I was always the dorky little sister, and I was mostly fine with that. I think there is an assumption, perpetuated by ALL OF THE SHOWS that women marry in to their geekery. Whether it is sports, Star Wars, Trekkies, or science, it seems implied that we fall in love with a geek, in spite of those things, roll our eyes at their quirks, and grudgingly become involved because it is something our fella cares about. This, in my case, in most cases, could not be further from the truth. (Also, heads up to you man-nerds, we often fall for you because of and not in spite of, so don’t closet your geek in carbonite.) My husband is a big ole geek, undoubtedly, but I out nerd him by a ratio of 3:1, and I am proud of that, dammit. I am no more or less defined by his interests than he is by mine. There is, to be fair, the occasional lady-nerd who hides her inclinations because it is not what is expected of a girl, and then lets her geek flag fly once her nerd of the soul is obtained. (Which is yet another facet of the same issue…) To her, to all of you I say, “Stop it!”
Listen, nerds, this is a classic case of friendly fire. We are on the same team, in the same bunker, I jump, you jump, etc.. Maybe if we can stop all the sniping, and be more aware of our own assumptions and limitations, we can build something amazing and have a real, sustainable effect on the communal consciousness of future generations. (Cause, that’s not too much to ask, right?) According to a number of modern scholars, meekness is defined as, “an active and deliberate acceptance of undesirable circumstances that are wisely seen by the individual as only part of a larger picture.” Sound like anyone you know? May The Force be with us, friends, and may the geeks inherit the earth.