Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Nerd cred, yo!

Recently, I've been reading about women game developers and women geeks in general having to defend their "nerd cred", and my first thought was, "What the hell is nerd cred?" Immediately, I start imagining gangs of people in their pocket protectors and horn-rimmed glasses doing a dance off in front of white boards and armed with colored dry erase markers.

As I did more research, I discovered that I was guilty of laughing my butt off at a meme that is now considered extremely sexist. I was first introduced to this meme when one of my friends, a fellow geek girl, had this posted to her page:

This was months and months ago, and I remember calling my husband over to laugh over it with me. First of all, it's funny because my friend absolutely won't have anything to do with DC comics. She's a total Marvel Girl. (Pun intended! And a girl after my own heart.) Secondly, I've dealt with so many people (not just women) that this meme makes fun of over the years. Heck, I may have BEEN this meme at some point in my life.

First of all, this meme makes fun of posers, and we all have met posers or been one at some point in our life. People try on a lot of hats for all sorts of reasons, and popularity and "being cool" are definitely two big factors in being a poser. We're all offended by posers because we often feel like they're mocking something we truly love or feel we've invested a lot of time and energy doing.

I'm not sure why this meme got turned into the "sexist" meme. I mean, most memes are downright insensitive in one way or another. I find Super Photogenic Guy to be far more sexist than Idiot Nerd Girl for the simple fact that Super Photogenic Guy is literally about that guy's maleness, even if it's in a positive light. Idiot Nerd Girl has very little to do with that girl actually being a girl and more about people pretending to be something they are not in order to make an impression on another group of people. Would we have the same reaction if it was Idiot Nerd Guy?

Now, don't get me wrong. There are jerks out there who question a girl's "nerd cred" and accuse us of using our womanhood to get in their sacred, geek pants.  I've had a run-in with it lately while playing a game on Kongregate of all places. I got accused of "getting all the men riled up because you let them know you're a girl who plays LoL". My horrible deed? One of my buddies on the game asked me what my League of Legends account was so he could friend me. Why? Because he liked playing games with me. So because I answered and because I had not hidden the fact that I was playing the game with my husband, I had obviously lured all these men to treating me better by... I don't know. I got lost in trying to follow his line of thought. He obviously had a problem with me playing an online game and being a chick. Here's the thing, though. That's HIS problem. He temporarily made it mine, but it was VERY temporary.

The meme, however, is not the result of a bunch of sexist, misogynistic men who are out to destroy all nerd women. In fact, before I knew it was "sexist", I made a bunch of them just to amuse myself. I even used the template to make up one for some of the sanctimonious role-players in a certain game where I can often be found. By attacking the meme, we're allowing the douche canoes who are making us defend our "nerd cred" to  have a rally point and to hide behind that meme. And really, those guys are like that with EVERYONE, even other guys who aren't in their accepted group and their accepted level of knowledge. It's their version of pissing on a tree to tell others to keep away, and it works remarkably well.

I was on the other side of Idiot Nerd Girl at Barnes & Nobles the other day. I had found a Lego Death Star, complete with a Tie Interceptor there, and of course, I bought it for my husband. When I got up to the register, the cashier gushed all over my Death Star. Then I said that I saw that there was a Yavin 4 and a Tatoonie as well, and I was thinking about getting one of those. She told me that she teared up every time she thought about Tatoonie. I thought that maybe she was sad that Boba Fett had died in the Sarlac Pit, and I was about to tell her that he actually makes it out when she said, "I never understood why Princess Leia wasn't more upset when they destroyed her planet. I would be devastated."

Before I could help myself, I blurted out, "Oh, you mean Alderaan."

She looked at me and said, "What?"

I said, "You mean Alderaan. Princess Leia's home planet was Alderaan, not Tatoonie."

Immediately, the lady got flustered and said that she couldn't keep any of the planets straight. There were just to many. For a moment, I doubted myself and started to feel like a guilty nerd who had spent too much time watching Star Wars. (Which I probably have, especially since my daughters are now getting into it.) I had a flash of resentment that she'd brought up Princess Leia in relation to Tatoonie at all and putting me in this position. She could had just gushed about my Death Star and left it at that. At the same time, I felt bad that she was trying to engage me, and it turned out awkward. So, I suppressed my nerd guilt and said, "Yeah, there's a lot of planets. The only reason I remembered it is because one of my favorite T-shirts shows Luke and Leia together with Alderaan in the back, and the hilarious caption said LOOKING FOR LOVE IN ALDERAAN PLACES." We had a good laugh and moved on away from the awkwardness. She helped me bag everything up, gave me about a thousand coupons, and rang up my discounts. We were both happy by the time I was done.

Still, I had that flash of resentment, but I'm a 37 year old woman with two daughters and a TON of geek/nerd friends and customers. I knew better than to let it unleash or to even hold it against that woman who was just trying to engage me. The Cred Warriors just don't know any better. They feel the need to stomp, moan, and freak out over their Nerdom. I leave it to them. They can have their little corner of the universe while I find friends who don't mind if I make a little bit of a mistake every now and then as I try to share their passion, and they don't mind if I correct them in my moments of extreme geekitude.


Diane Carlisle said...

This really drives me wild when I think about all the geek marking going on in the tech world. So much is hidden, people don't even know! It's everywhere. When women genuinely have a passion for something that is not commonly a "woman" thing, everyone goes all out of whack.

When I started in development, every project I was assigned had restrictions from management. You must do it using this tool or that. You must code it in java, you must hold a design review, you must flow chart the old, then rewrite a new model. I was constantly having to learn new things in order to accomplish my tasks and complete my projects.

I was ecstatic! Really? You want little ole me to do all that? SWEET!

After ten years, I looked back and wondered why all the restrictions? And then it hit me...was my passion for tech being punished? Did the forces who manage, in an attempt to deter me, want to see me fail? Or did they secretly hope that I'd succeed and prove that women deserve a place in the tech industry? What was my reward? Where do I go from here? There's no upward mobility for me in management. Maybe I'm better suited where I sit?

Then one day, a guy who didn't appear to have any of these restrictions throughout the years was combing through some code I'd developed years ago and he walked into my office and asked, "That program you wrote AXJJ001, why did you spend all that time coding it when you could have just called my function and get the same thing accomplished?"

I just looked at him and said, "I had no idea you had a function that could help me out, so I created my own." I was puzzled at that point and so I asked, "When I was struggling to learn, why didn't you offer the help then?"

That's when I realized I deserve to be in tech. Because if I can do it with restrictions that you don't have, and I can get the same things accomplished with better results and an improved mindset, then I'm an equal or better. :D

It's a struggle, but when you deserve to be in a class you have high regard for, it really is sad when others can so ubiquitously slap a label on themselves and expect to garner any respect from those who've sweat blood over the years, not because they were forced, but because they were driven by their own passion.

Okay, did I just rant all over your blog? *blush*

Michael said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this post.

The part about us all being poseurs at some point in our lives really resonated with me. We all experiment with different hobbies or versions of ourselves. Sometimes that results in missteps or embarrassments. That's ok.

We deal with those moments of awkwardness with humor as a way to diffuse the situation. Just like you did with your reference to the "Looking for love in Alderann places" t-shirt. That's pretty much what the "idiot nerd girl" meme is too.

Since when is it a rule that we all have to find the same things funny anyway? Some jokes will amuse you and others will irritate you. There's nothing wrong with that. It is a good thing. It is healthy.

The cool thing about being a nerd is you get to embrace cool things regardless of what other people think about it.

There are too many offendatarians in the world these days just running around looking for things to get offended over. If anyone needs to STFU its them.

Pang said...

Diane, sorry to hear about your experience! That really stinks.

I think, most of my life, I've had the opposite experience. Most of the time, men are ecstatic when I show up where there are few women involved. That was when I was young and single.

Now, it's just a norm. They don't really care if I'm a chick or a dude. They flame me if I suck. They praise me if I don't. Every now and then, I'll run into the guys who are still all super happy that they're playing with a woman gamer. VERY rarely, I run into the gamer who actually actively hate the fact that I'm a woman and think I'm using it for some nefarious purposes.

In the business world, on the other hand, it takes a lot of effort on my part to be included in conversations whereas my husband can just walk up and be instantly engaged. I feel pretty invisible sometimes, but no one is ever rude, at least!

Deborah MacArthur said...

I usually have NO problem at all saying "I don't know".
I can become engaged in a conversation on any topic and when I get in over my head I have no problem admitting they've lost me. I don't feel badly about this. I am not less intelligent suddenly. I don't feel as though I wasn't qualified to enter into the conversation in the first place. However when it comes to gaming/tech/nerd qualifications I have a thinner skin and I can't really figure out why. It's as if there is some level of expertise that has to be met or you loose geek status.
For example, WoW is a game I've played only a little. I'm certainly no expert but I can join in the gamer talk with enthusiasm "When my husband went into an instance he would have me put down my ebook to play my shadow priest. I would globe up and try not to draw agro while basically keeping the tank alive and everyone else I could throw heals at." There, I sound like a real gamer. But then I'm thinking, "What is that word Pang uses all the time, about staying on the edges of the melee...damn I've heard her use it dozens of...ahh "kiting"! Got it. Whew." But why did I panic a little if I couldn't remember just the right verbiage to "sound gamer enough". This just doesn't happen with anything outside of gaming/geek stuff.
If I am discussing books (my main passion) I have no trouble admitting I don't know a certain author. In fact I will jot down the name happily. Love finding someone new to read! If my "fav author" is being discussed, I can easily admit I don't know the name of that book or I haven't read that one. I never feel as though I don't qualify as a "true fan" if I admit there are things I don't know or no longer remember about that author. So WHY do I feel insecure defending my nerd creds?
well...I don't know. =)

Pang said...

Gaming is very specific. You can tell what game someone plays simply by the terms they use. If I say, "I play support on bot and need a good ADC", there are people out there who know exactly what game I play, and if you don't know what I'm saying, then even if you play the game, you don't play at the same level that I do. Knowing the terms is "proof" that you belong and that you know what you're doing. Inherently, we know that, so we know that when we fumble the terms, it looks like we're just pretending to be there or that we're there because our boyfriends or husbands made us play.

That's why it's easy to get defensive. That's why we get annoyed that we have to defend our "right" to be there. I play the game. Shouldn't that be enough? Why do I have to prove it by knowing the lingo? For some games, the only way to "know the lingo" is to interact on forums or chat with gamers. I'm at an age that I don't really enjoy talking to random people online who are posturing on public channels. So I'm slower to know the "culture" of a game.

Luckily for me, I've been in it for so long that I do know all those terms, but really, I often feel that just the fact that I'm there playing is enough. I shouldn't have to know the lingo in order to "belong". Though, honestly, I don't really care if I belong or not, but I think that it's legit if you do. :)

Rafael Maldonado said...

Awesome post.

I think some people unfortunately tend to trend towards elitism. Often times, they do it very loudly that it becomes the "face" for whatever they are being elitist about. Most of the people that I've met playing online games (or out in the world with other interests) are generally pretty cool and helpful about getting you into "the know." But there is that group of "gate-keepers" that start in on you because you don't know enough. On one hand, it sort of keeps away people who are not genuinely interested in the field, but on the other hand it also drives away people who are genuinely interested but are either timid or don't want to put up with the BS being delivered by said "gate-keepers."