Thursday, 27 September 2007

Geek Girl

I used to wear Bluthan's airforce army tag around my neck. I wore it for more than two years, never taking it off. I lost it in the sea, doing a handstand - I was so used to it I didn't notice it was gone until the next morning.
So, with respect to its symbolic value, Bluthan and I bought matching tags from - his says "geek" and mine says "geek girl".

And I wondered, when I saw the available selection of tags, why the "geek" tag doesn't say "geek boy". Then I answered my own question: It doesn't need to - it's implied. A geek is a boy.
If there is a girl out there in the world displaying geek qualities, she belongs to a whole different category. She's not a geek. She's a geek girl.

Most guys have geek potential - whether they choose to follow the noble path of geekdom or not. Us girl geeks, well, we're an exception to our gender. And it has nothing to do, it seems, with the "level" of our geekiness - our knowledge, interests, looks etc.

I have been a geek for most of my life. A nerd too, but that's irrelevant - that has to do with no more than an "academic pursuit of knowledge". Geek status is a different area of expertise in itself. It has to do with knowledge and interest in specific domains: computers (via gaming or not), comics, science fiction, RPGs and such games, or even a specific kind of interest in cinema or music. And all the aforementioned categories are ones whose subject matter I'm familiar with, more than your regular guy-geek.

But why is it that in order to accept a guy as equal in geeky circles, his knowledge threshold is much lower than mine? Why is the fact that he's a guy and is "apparently" interested in "such things" enough for someone to turn to him in a conversation instead of me, assuming that he knows more or his interest is purer than mine?

I'm not complaining, really, I understand how and why. Females tend to enter such domains for different reasons, usually. It could be a boyfriend, whose world you have to explore in order to keep him. It could be a brother whom you look up to. Or even a culture statement, 'cause, face it, geekiness is cool in the year 2005. But only rarely is it due to pure, I-could-never-live-otherwise interest. But that's OK, it's the way things are.

What is equally annoying and understandable is the way in which a girl geek has to prove herself among equals, and the effect that proving herself has on her fellow geeks. It seems so weird, every single time I see it.

Take american comics for example. There's all kinds of people that are into them, in many different ways. Still, I'm a girl, so when a comics fan meets me, they assume I have nothing to do with the field. If I declare otherwise, I'm pushed aside as "probably a manga fan" - which I was, once, but that was so many years ago, way before the manga boom, when we had to order the damn things from America. Then I grew sick of the repetition, and found more interesting stories to read. Then I mention a writer or two, or a title or five, and they're convinced that I'm one of those girls who reads comics because of her boyfriend. Or that I'm one of those girls who read the Sandman and Lenore and pose as comic know-it-alls. And even people who know me - yes it happened last week - and have talked about comics with me extensively will sometimes be surprised by the fact that I do indeed read certain titles - wearing a Green Lantern t-shirt is not proof enough, as it would be for a guy, that I read the Rebirth storyline. I may own the t-shirt 'cause it's cute and green and trendy-looking. I'm a Vertigo fan after all.

Looking like your typical indie girl doesn't help either. With my Camper shoes and cute minidresses or midi skirts, discreetly stylish Toni & Guy hair and earthy colours, I'm just an artsy student for anyone who cares to judge. I look like the type that goes to the Tate every other week, who doesn't miss a single indie concert and is bisexual only 'cause it's cool in certain circles. Well, guess again. I've only been to the Tate once in the past 5 years, I believe in downloading my music and listening to it in the comfort of my own home, and I spent most of my teenage years resenting my sexual orientation - I still do quite often. But I love my comics, I know more about my PC than any guy I know who hasn't studied IT-related stuff, I'd already played more RPGs than most roleplayers I currently know have played now by the time they even started playing, and I've read more science fiction and fantasy than all of them put together.

I didn't have much of a life when I was younger. I just did stuff I liked. I was a dorky geek, as geeky as they get. But now I'm able to choose, to know what I want, to know what I like, and avoid subculture stereotypes when they're just not "me". I'm allowed to say "popular superhero comics are still so limited and immature, with just a few exceptions" and not sound like the cunt who looks down on them because they're targeted at spotty teenagers, because I read the Death of Superman the month it came out and I've read so much more since - at least enough to form an opinion. I've been through the "OMG Spawn's cape is sooooo well-drawn" phase, I've been through the "I must learn Japanese to read manga as they were written" phase, I've been through the "Graphic Novels are the only mature form of comic writing" phase, and I'm waaay past them all. So suck my toe, geek girl stereotype. I'm me, and if you think you can assume things about me without asking, you've got another thing coming.

Yes, I don't know java or sql, but I was making websites with HTML and javascript in notepad before you even had an internet connection. I played text adventures, and then classic LucasArts adventures, when you were busy wishing for an early console as a Christmas present. I was online through Unix when you'd just gotten your windows 95 installed by a professional, so I can choose to ignore the Linux craze now and use whatever OS suits me best (known to you as Evil Bill Gates' Windows XP). I spent my childhood playing around with my PC components and reassembling it from scratch so I can have the right to delare that "I can't be bothered assembling my PC which was in storage, I'd rather get Bluthan to do it for me". I reached a stage where I know i can do these things, or easily learn how to, so I can choose not to, and nobody has the right to look down on me for it. Yet they still do, assuming that I have no clue.

And I still can't blame them. When I see the percentage of technophobic females around me, my age or even younger, or when I'm disappointed with girls I meet which show potential ("I love comics") but prove otherwise ("Not Batman and Superman, that's for kids - Neil Gaiman's stuff is great tho!"), I can't help but understand why people place me in that category automatically. Sure, I love Neil Gaiman. But I'm culturally polyamorous. That's what makes me a geek - not a geek girl.

Still, I wear the tag with pride. I don't really believe in any such signifiers - cultural, subcultural, sociological or otherwise - since every person, in their own way, is a small exception to many larger groups. But I love playing with them, because of their extraordinary social power. I enjoy challenging semiotics, I enjoy using them for the element of surprise they always carry hidden in their coat pockets. They're open to interpretation by anyone, according to their own definitions and experience, and what they assume when they hear one of these signifiers is up to them and them alone. And everyone wants to think of themself as open-minded, which in fact no one can truly be. So I thrive in the power that these signifiers grant me... I love being more than meets the eye.

And the next time someone turns to Bluthan to discuss something which I know more about, or which interests me more, I know he'll point to me, or at least visibly and respectfully include me in the conversation, and the other person will stare, goggle-eyed, in surprise. And I'll be equally mad at the previous assumption, and happy with the revelation. I'm not much more as a person, but at least I've earned my geek badge of honour.

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