Diversity Technology

Girl Geeks. Fact? Or Oxymoron?

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

In her OPML weblog, Hilary questioned the seeming double standard of calling Dave Winer out for sexist behavior, but not dong the same with Maryam Scoble. She has a good point.

I had noticed Scoble’s original posting related to BlogHer, where she wrote:

Are you a a single male geek wondering why your love life sucks? Are you a married male geek wondering what’s wrong with your marriage? I can tell you what your problem is and there is an easy solution for it too. You should be at Blogher. Or you should send your significant other to Blogher and if at all possible attend the conference with her. If you are mising Blogher conference, I am gonna tell you in my best Dr. Phil voice: What were you thinking?

There are rooms full of beautiful, smart and smiling women here at Blogher. We have exotic brunettes, brilliant blondes and sexy red heads.

I’ve never heard a tech conference described in this way, whereby the members of the conference were called beautiful in dozens of different ways–as if to assure one and all that though the ladies may be independent, they’re still cute as buttons. As for calling all the ‘geeks’ with the assumption that they’re men…well.

Why didn’t I say anything? Because I had already been critical of actions undertaken, or not undertaken, by women associated with BlogHer; actions I thought were more important to discuss than Ms. Scoble’s tossaway remarks. Frankly, I didn’t need to generate a discussion on yet another front.

As for Scoble’s more recent post:

Geek to me stands for someone like my husband, addicted to his gadgets and his email and his Internet connection, very intelligent when it comes to machines, technology, and Internet and not so savvy when it comes to dealing with people, fashion and emotions.

I am lucky enough to know many smart and technologically advanced women, but I don’t categorize them as geeks even though they are as good as if not better than any male geeks I know when it comes to dealing with computers. I guess what I want to say is that women as hard ass as they can be in the technical field still have some RAM left for the soft stuff. They are more than just geeks. Is my logic flawed? What do you all think?

I think your logic is flawed.

First, I want to go on record, right here and now, as saying I don’t see Robert Scoble as a ‘geek’. I see him as a very astute marketing person with a great deal of discretionary income and a short attention span.

So, if Robert Scoble is not ‘geek’, what is a geek? According to the dictionary:


1. A person regarded as foolish, inept, or clumsy.
2. A person who is single-minded or accomplished in scientific or technical pursuits but is felt to be socially inept.

2. A carnival performer whose show consists of bizarre acts, such as biting the head off a live chicken.

I think I can safely say that no woman I know of would want to be a ‘geek’ according to this definition. Oddly enough, I don’t know of any man who would aspire to be the dictionary example of ‘geek’, either. That’s not to say there aren’t men and women who like to bite heads off of live chickens; just that I don’t, personally, know of any.

I like what Wikipedia has to say on ‘geek‘:

A geek is a person who is fascinated, perhaps obsessively, by obscure or very specific areas of knowledge and imagination.

Whether you agree with this definition or not, it’s beautiful, isn’t it? I could accept this as a label. I could live with being a Wikipedia geek.

The article also goes on to make some other distinctions on ‘geek’, including the fact that geek is not anchored to technology: one can be a music geek, literature geek, history geek, and so on. As for geek behavior, the article has the following:

Many teenage and college students adopt the stereotypical outward traits of geeks in order to fit in with the so-called geek subculture. It has been observed that many of the classic eccentricities associated with geeks has been due to their social awkwardness and were thus naturally occurring instead of contrived behavior. However, in the recent decade, many geeks have cultivated for themselves a number of behavioral traits that one sports as an indication of being “in the know” and “out of the mainstream”. These range from geek humor and obscure references to t-shirts sporting references to geek culture or interests. Also, many individuals, male and female, in an effort to avoid the dry, academic, no-nonsense stereotype associated with those in the intellectual, technical, and scientific fields (who historically have often been depicted as being quiet and reserved if not socially inept), cultivate personality quirks and eccentricities in order to appear more interesting.

Notice the reference to male and female: the article makes no assumption as to sex of the geek, only behavior. However, if one looks in the discussion page, this wasn’t always so. There, in one section related to geek girls we find:

sigh False hope: this link redirects to the top of the regular Geek page. As the daughter of a NASA scientist (therefore well versed in classical Geek culture) I have a few questions to raise:

* Can a pretty girl be a geek?

Yes. It’s worth pointing out though, that most of the girls who call themselves geeks have very little geek cred, and are actually what are known as scene whores in the Linux community. This would be descriptive of a hanger-on who is attracted to the “culture” of geekdom. Amazingly, there is such a thing as a “geek groupie’.

* What’s the relationship of geekdom and sex?

I have a thoroughly nonscientific theory, probably non-PC as well.

The formative Geek years are adolescence. It’s pretty easy for a guy to become a geek even if he’s fairly good looking. A teenage girl who’s good looking is going to get attention. She’ll also experience far more social pressure to maintain her appearance. This leads toward the social mainstream and away from advanced Linux skills, strangely worded t-shirts, and the Monty Python oeuvre.

Geekery could be called a set of behaviors that people engage in when they can’t have sex. Once a geek persona is firmly established it withstands romance. Developing geeks need abstinence. A young woman with natural geek tendencies who seeks out geek gatherings is probably going to get laid. Or at least get hit on by a huge number of guys. This inhibits the proper development of her geek nature. There are exceptions to this rule…but that kind of proves the rule, y’know?

Thankfully, this person’s attempt to establish a separate ‘geek girl’ page at Wikipedia was halted, and the effort redirected back to geek.

From all of this, do I consider Maryam Scoble to be sexist? Hard to say. I don’t read her weblog and my only exposure to her, online, has been her participation at BlogHer. At a minimum, I’ll say that she’s confused and perhaps lacking in empathy about what’s important to women who are technologists.

Returning, then, to my old standby–the literal meaning of things–according to the dictionary ’sexist’ is defined:


1. Discrimination based on gender, especially discrimination against women.
2. Attitudes, conditions, or behaviors that promote stereotyping of social roles based on gender.

I’d have to say that Maryam Scoble is sexist according to the second definition: for labeling and limiting men. After all, women can be anti-social, spendthrift, goods obsessed slobs, too.

As for Mr. Winer and his disappeared post from yesterday, and the more extensive version posted today–now I do have a long, long history with Dave. If I thought he, and others, wanted a dialog on sexism, in the past I would have tried. In fact, in the past I did try.

Unfortunately I can’t now, because I no longer know how to have a dialog on sexism in weblogging. I don’t know how to separate out the bits that are meaningful from the bits that are tossed out only to seek attention. I don’t know how to make my points without someone taking whatever I say, no matter how indirect, and making it personal. Disagreement is seen as criticism and criticism is seen as flames–you can’t have a dialog with these rules.

Someone else will have to have that dialog with Dave. Perhaps the folks of BlogHer; perhaps no one at all. As to the question that drives all of this: is Dave sexist? Is Dave not sexist? You know, I really don’t care one way or the other.

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