On “Fake Geek Girls” and Gratuitous Gendering of Actual Human Problems
Last week, Forbes published an article entitled Dear Fake Geek Girls: Please Go Away. Written by technology blogger Tara ‘Tiger’ Brown, the article appeared, on the surface, to be about unceremoniously ousting out somehow-exclusively-female ‘posers’ who weren’t as into some arbitrary measure of ‘geekiness’ as they ‘should’ be. Given this angle, it attracted many good rebuttals criticising the piece and calling for inclusivity, all of which were totally correct in their internal logic, of course.
But, the thing is, I feel that everyone, including, sadly, Brown herself, seemed to miss the point of what she was actually trying to unearth with the article, and what happened instead as a result.
I noticed this when I saw that some friends, a few hours after the post went viral, were pointing at Brown’s twitter feed, as purported examples of further internalised misogyny. I had a look, and, what I found most striking amongst the barrage of replies she was fielding was her repeated vague references to not wanting to name names in the article, and references to there being people who laugh behind the backs of ‘geek guys’, apparently explicitly for profit.
Indeed, it seems that Brown actually wanted to write this article about people – who, perhaps, in her own cross-section of life have been mostly women – whom she knows, whom she had in mind, and who have been openly disingenuous and specifically insincere in their intentions towards others.
But instead, I think this happened:
I hope you can see the parallel.
What happened here isn’t necessarily Brown’s fault, because this exists in a culture in which women are systemically called out for behaviour which, when attributed to their male counterparts, wouldn’t raise any eyebrows – or, is even valued. It’s the same crap that calls out women for ‘self-promotion’, yet this is apparently, perfectly acceptable for men, and actually helps them to get ahead. It also reminds me of this quote I read in a Guardian piece in December 2011, which asked why British public life – in radio, television, and across media – men dominated. Dr Katherine Rake said:
“The number of women at the top often hovers around a third, and then stalls.” Once women reach that level of visibility, she suspected, there was a feeling they were everywhere, and their presence was becoming a bit too dominant.
Emphasis mine. The above astonished me, though I’ve since noticed that exact fallacious thinking surface a few times in casual discussion. In short, we notice when women do things which we’re not expecting them to do, and men are often not held to the same standard – and this disdain can come from both men and women. All this is the reason why the ‘idiot nerd girl’ meme surfaced in the first place, and this erroneous thinking on Brown’s part fed straight into it. It’s a cultural problem, and it is up to us all as a culture to be wary of this.
Indeed, Brown isn’t entirely without blame. She was not helped by the hit-grabbing headline when it came to misrepresenting herself, misrepresenting women. As an apparent advocate for women in technology, this was a massively irresponsible move on her part, as it plays not only into the aforementioned cognitive bias to gratuitously gender behaviours, but also, because it plays into the existing stereotype of ‘women-attacking-women’. Stereotypes which are admittedly perpetuated by a whole cornucopia of complex factors, but nonetheless, need to stop.
Brown’s article was not about ‘fake geek girls‘ at all, even though she thought it was, due to the way we gratuitously attribute gender to problems which need not be gendered. It was, instead, about calling out the very real, very undesirable human behaviour of insincerity. This is a far cry from women – and men – who are superficially into popularised ‘geek culture’, who self-identify as ‘geek’.
Insincerity and disingenuity bother me. Really bother me, and, believe me, I’ve personally experienced it spewing forth from all corners of the gender spectrum. Insincerity is a problem, and I do think it should be called out wherever it appears, but let’s recognise it as a human problem. Turning it into a gendered issue simply plays into our weird culture-induced cognitive biases, and is simply harmful.
I’d seen Brown make some mention of a follow-up piece to clarify the statements she’d subsequently made on Twitter, though as far as I’m aware, it has not yet appeared. (Do correct me if I’m wrong.) I’d be very interested to see how she extends her original discussion beyond the glittery lights of the Forbes blog.