Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Guest Blog: How Sexism Among Geeks Hurts Men


You know this guy. You've seen him before, sometimes in tv or movies, sometimes in real life. He's a nerd. More specifically, he's the stereotypical male geek: knows a lot about games, movies, television, comic books or what-have-you, but next to nothing about social skills. However, he's particularly lacking in social skills in regards to women, but why?




Sexism is rampant throughout geek culture. This is something few people dispute. The recent case of Aris Bakhtanians's appearance on the Cross Assault reality show even showcased that many of the perpetrators of this sexism don't deny it. Instead, they openly attempt to justify it as an inherent part of the culture. This, however, hurts men sometimes as much as it hurts women.

Let's take the aforementioned case of Cross Assault as an example. Cross Assault is a web series produced by Capcom, a well-known and respected Japanese video game developer, most famous for their Street Fighter games, as well as the Megaman and Resident Evil series. The show is a reality show centered around fighting game competition. Aris Bakhtanians was a contestant on one team who made lewd comments about another team member, a woman, that would be generally considered disturbing. On video, he is heard asking her bra size, as well as wanting to follow her into the bathroom. It is reported that he was even more lewd off-camera.

Sadly, this sort of behavior is not extraordinary in the fighting game community, specifically, nor geek culture as a whole. What isextraordinary, in this case, is the way Bakhtanians defended his language: he immediately owned it, proclaiming it to be “inherent” in the fighting game culture, and that it is “unethical” to try to change that. This is a similar argument that many political pundits attempt to play when they get called out on scandalous behavior, that it is “free speech” and their critics have no right to restrict them. What these pundits rarely ever admit, and Bakhtanians seems to completely balk at, is that the right to freedom of speech in the Constitution of the United States is protection from government censorship, and has nothing to do with the social consequences of being an asshole. In this case, Bakhtanians openly claims to not give a damn about whether or not it's seen as a good thing; it's part of what he loves about the community.

But I can't help but wonder how this affects him in ways he doesn't even realize. For instance, his views of women indicate to me that he views women more as objects than as people. In today's society, it can be difficult for a man to socialize with women when they view them in that way. After all, if a woman is there solely for your entertainment, as he seems to think, would you bother talking to her? This brings to mind the idea of the “internet tough guy”: the phenomenon in which a person on the internet, with total anonymity, can behave in ways they normally would not in face-to-face interactions because they would not have to personally deal with the consequences.

From that idea, I can offer up a theory: Aris Bakhtanians is actually intimidated by women. He behaves the way he does because he has no foundation upon which to know better. He has had no experience dealing with women on a person-to-person basis, and instead avoids them outright, publicly shaming them if need be. This is a major problem in the geek community: it is so gender-isolated that many men who are fully welcomed into it are also entirely without any strong, female role-models. Similar to the way a person who is abandoned in the wild as a baby and somehow survives would have no idea how to react to humans, and thus lashes out violently when encountering civilization for the first time. A male geek, lost in the geek wilds, faced with a female geek, reacts violently.

I am sure Bakhtanians would disagree with my theory, but thus is the way of those who are accused of being intolerant or insensitive: they rarely can see the wrongness in their own behavior. If it were up to me, though, I would make an effort to reach across the gender divide. As a geek myself, I have made many attempts to bridge the gender gap in the geek world, and have found many very welcoming men, but there is still much work to be done to make way in a culture that has been so isolated from those of us who are not male. I hope that more efforts are made to diversify the community in new ways, and that, one day, we may finally grow past this feeling of “male entitlement.”

-Bree

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