Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Masculinity, Nerds and Me

In one way or another, I found myself in the company of a bunch of fanboys this past weekend. At first, I was thrilled. What new games would I play? (Super Mario Strikers) What comics would I be able to pick up and read for free on the sly? (JLA #0)

And at first, it was good. I felt accepted. I held my own in Strikers even though it was my first time playing. I got to talk about Catwoman and Chris Bachelo. Nerd talk uninhibited.

But then, unexpectedly, it started. Faggot. Pussy this, pussy that. Vagina this, slut that. Dumbfounded and silent, I held my tongue. Sat rigidly on the couch, smoothed out my skirt, buried my face in a comic.

It was naive of me not to expect this. And I thought that I’d be prepared for this situation, where talk turns sour and everything becomes an insult. The amount of sexism and homophobia was staggering. I thought I’d be able to make some quick witty comebacks (filled with insightful knowledge) that would enlighten or at least make them shut up. After all the theory I’ve studied. Everything I’ve written on this blog, everything I’ve read on other’s blogs. You’d think I’d be able to come up with something. The only time that I was able to say anything was when one of the guys asked if I was looking at my own boobs. I shot him down so quickly and defensively that I surprised myself. I shocked him, and I’m sure the group was happy when I left—I was the bitch who ruined all the fun.

I first I felt exasperated. Do these guys represent the majority of the fan community that I want to be a part of? I mean, I desperately want to be part of some sort of group of people who share the same interests as I. But can that even occur because I’m a woman? At Wizard World I’ll be handing out flyers for as a way to be proactive, as an attempt to further create a space for women in geekdom. Yet, after my intensive nerd run-in, passing out flyers doesn’t seem to be good enough. Writing in this blog doesn’t seem to be good enough.

As a few days have now passed and my hopelessness has ceded a bit. I’ve been thinking and thinking about the whole situation and managed to come up with this: the guys I was around were taking part in a form of alternative masculinity. They’ve suffered the consequences of not being traditionally masculine: they’re not rich, they don’t have tight bodies or physical prowess. A way for them to prove their masculinity is through wins and game scores, and extensive comic book knowledge. Another way is verbal; by using sexist and homophobic slurs, masculinity can be proved by effeminizing their peers.

I’m not interested in games, comics, anime, what have you, in order to prove anything. My interest is that I simply like them. I think the guys I came in contact with initially started out the same way, but found that as they grew older and had their masculinity questioned, they had to use their hobbies as a way to prove themselves. I, as a geek girl, stand in direct opposition to that, which is why I failed, after the first couple of hours, to find a common ground with them.


jfpbookworm said...

The guys I was around were taking part in a form of alternative masculinity. They’ve suffered the consequences of not being traditionally masculine: they’re not rich, they don’t have tight bodies or physical prowess. A way for them to prove their masculinity is through wins and game scores, and extensive comic book knowledge. Another way is verbal; by using sexist and homophobic slurs, masculinity can be proved by effeminizing their peers.

I think you're mostly spot on with this. I think what they're doing is angling for acceptance and respect among each other, and being acknowledged as men is seen as providing this respect. The solution, I think, is to separate respect from misogyny by calling these guys out on their behavior.

I'm not saying that you, as the lone woman in the group, need to do this - the men who are uncomfortable with that sort of talk (and I can pretty much guarantee that there will be a few) have just as much (more, actually) responsibility.

Brinstar said...

I am not sure whether these men represent the majority. I've sometimes found it difficult to be amongst a group men, because they often sink into sexist/derogatory language/dialogue. In that situation, I want to be "one of the gang" (everyone wants to be accepted) and so I feel I should let their derogatory comments slide. But at the same time, I can't stand what has been said. I usually let the slurs aginst my gender (or whatever else it is that they're insulting) go, because being offended is equivalent to being "not fun."

Sometimes, I will call them out on it, and I am told to "lighten up" that it's "all in good fun" and that I "need to relax". Being dismissed doesn't encourage one to point out disagreeable behaviour, but I guess all I can do is try when I can.

Usually though, the presence of a woman deters men from saying stuff like that. I don't know whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. It strikes me as making a false impression if they act one way when a woman is there (refraining from using sexist/derogatory language) and then act in another way when it's all men. I'd rather that they not speak that way at all, no matter who is or isn't around.

100LittleDolls said...

jfpbookworm: Yes, you're exactly right about respect and having to separate it from misogyny. It sucks because I feel like I can't do anything about it--that I don't have the power to. But the geeky guys that I do know who do care about the things being said don't feel that they have enough power to do something. Such is patriarchy, keeping everyone in check.

brinstar: I think you're right about these guys not representing the majority. They're from a smallish town in Wisconsin. Sometimes I worry though that I'm living in a liberal bubble, being that I live in Chicago and work at a college.

I'm glad to know I'm not the only one struggling between voicing my concerns about the derogatory language and ruining the fun of the party. You also bring up a good point about the presence of a woman detering such behavior--at first I wondered why my being there didn't stop them from the slut-calling and pussy-naming. Does being a geek take away from my feminity in their eyes? Well, either way, I agree with you, I wish that kind of language didn't have to go hand in hand with gaming.

Luke said...

I hear you when it comes to negotiating that area of friends/strangers/parties/social outings/conversations and when to say something what to say when you hear something offensive.

i don't know what it is about multiplayer computer games, but for me a large part of the reason I quit games like starcraft was because there were soooo many of these idiots who were just so aggressive and misogynistic with their words. it just got worse and worse and I got tired of squelching every new person I played against. there would be times where some player would call another a "cocksucking whore" for almost no reason and when I asked him why he uses those words, i usually got a "fuck you."

but in terms of your comment about the alternative masculinity, I think that's pretty accurate. same reason some boys and men get into guns at young ages: if you can't compete with the football players who "get the girls" and all those other stereotypical forms of masculinity, the only way to level it is start carrying. gaming I think for a lot of boys becomes this release where they can engage in the Eminem misogyny that they can't otherwise participate in in the mainstream. society says to treat women badly so they do that where they can.

jfpbookworm said...

100ld: My guess as to what happened with you is some may have done it to try to actively maintain a "boys' club" atmosphere, and others joined in when they perceived that they could "get away with it."

luke: I think there's a vicious cycle going on with those scenes. The folks who are uncomfortable with that sort of "trash talk" leave, which means that a larger proportion of the remaining players do it, which reinforces it as the norm.

As for calling men out on sexism without "escalating" the situation, I find that just telling them "not cool" in a casual tone works pretty well. There's not much they can say to that without looking stupid.

Leah said...

No, I feel these guys do represent the majority of male gamers. I agree with what 100 Little Dolls said about the new form of masculinity and frankly I find it sickening.

I used to play Halo 2 daily on Xbox Live. I wasn’t ashamed to be a girl gamer; I didn’t hide my voice, I didn’t do anything to conceal my gender. It was fine, even great for a while, but then things changed. The very climate of Xbox Live became hostile towards women so I stopped playing – cancelled my account and all. It became: If I was not as good as them, it’s because I am a girl. If I beat them, it was the opposite, “You stupid slut, I let you win”.

I also deal with it on a daily basis. I go to a private university that has a major in game design. While that is not my major, I do take some of the more interesting classes and the classroom environment is equally hostile.

“Shut up, Princess, you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”
“No one cares what you think.”
“We only make games for men. Women don’t matter.”
“Why don’t you go bake something, sweetheart?”

These are the “men” that could possibly be the future of the industry. Many of them have threatened me or openly treated me like a whore. Scary, isn’t it?

100LittleDolls said...

Luke and Leah: And yeah, I don't see myself going online with XBox Live or anything like that any time soon. I figure, self-preservation and all. Sometimes I play Dofus, but it's pretty innocent.

And, god, Leah, that is scary. It sucks that you have to do with that at school.

100LittleDolls said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
R said...

Hey, I just surfed over here from a link on another blog, and really felt moved to comment on your post. I've been struggling with the same sorts of issues with my circle of friends - mostly geek guys - for years. Just last night, I was put in the position of either listening to a couple of guys joke about "cheap whores" overseas (one of them was about to transfer to a different country for work) while we ate dinner at a restaurant, walking out (we had come in one car), or speaking up and shutting their inappropriate, disrespectful conversation down. I chose to speak up, and they were awkward and twitchy for the rest of the night.

I guess what I'm saying is - you're not the only one! It's rough, and some strategies work better in certain situations than others. All you can do is try to accomplish what you can, reasonably, each time, and hope for the best. And for an eventual shift in societal attitudes. :-P

Derek said...

I think I should foreword this by saying that I am a male gamer, but not one of those male gamers. I don't even play Halo.

... that was supposed to be a joke, but this isn't really a funny topic.

I'd just like to say that I have had similar experiences, but with a different tint. Far too often, I'll be hanging out with some new people (and sometimes, tragically, old friends) havign a good time, when someone makes a racist joke/comment.

It used to be that I'd just ignore it and take a drink or something so's not to ruin the mood, but that only encourages them to do it. Then I read something somewhere about an anti-Klu Klux Klan guy, Stetson Kennedy. He advocated something called "frown power"; instead of ignoring it or faking a laugh, you look them straight in the eye and, well, frown.

It sounds weak, but I've found it has a profound effect. It won't stop racism (or in your case, sexism), but it might get them to realize what they're saying is hurtful, not funny.

At the very least, it will stop them from saying those kind of things around you.

Anonymous said...

I found this blog randomly when I googled Stetson Kennedy. I'm appalled and saddened by some of the things you all described...especially the comments made to Leah in the video game design class!
BUT, I was thrilled to see Derek's mention of "Frown Power"'re right; it is really effective in getting the point across when you don't feel comfortable saying something. Good luck to all of you, and thanks for posting such interesting & eye-opening blogs/comments.