An Open Letter to Geeky Guys (Non-geeks may learn something, too):

Listen, I’m really glad that some of you are into the whole gender deconstruction thing. I think it’s great that you don’t want to just oogle the pixeled female bits. Really. But, guys? It’s not so cute when all your ‘deconstruction’ does is reaffirm women’s position as Second Class Geeks.

What am I talking about? Well, you can find examples on it all over the net. You can find one on this blog, addressed to your gaming cousins. For a more recent, and in-depth example, let’s take I Enjoy Playing a Girl from the latest Escapist issue.

Like most of you, Chris Dahlen, the author, has his heart in the right place as far as I can tell. He says things like, “I have to believe any serious gamer would rather roleplay their characters than ogle them,” and, “[f]or all our assurances that men and women have the same talents and potential, treating them exactly the same feels like ducking an issue, rather than leveling a playing field.” I think he hits on what could be a very insightful argument, if you know, he had bothered to flesh it out. The myth of gender equality through equal stats is an issue that deserves attention.

But, apparently in this male-normative society, that’s too much to ask from your average geek male writing on women’s issues. Wait, wait, wait. What’s male-normative? Basically where men are the default and women are the Other (sort of what Dahlen’s entire premise is for his article). Well, let’s just take a look at Dahlen’s language for an example, shall we?

He gives his potential male characters a wide variety of personalities: “Am I the noble hero?” he asks himself, “A backstabbing thief? An insecure wisecracker?… [A]n alpha male…?” So, what does he say of his female characters? “[P]laying a girl puts me in far more neutral territory.” As the default for human, the man gets to choose from a range of archetypes that come easily to Dahlen’s mind. The woman, as Other, doesn’t get to do any of that “normal” stuff; she gets to be “neutral territory.” I’d also like to point out that it falls into mandatory gender roles: the active male versus the passive (neutral) female.

His language is your language, guys. Your gut reaction, I’m sure, is to step up and say, “No, I’m not like that!” Maybe you’re not. Maybe you are. But, ask yourself, do you hear it when other people do it? Can you find other examples of it in his article? If I hadn’t pointed it out, would you have even thought twice about what he said?

Another thing to chew on: when you’re like “omfg geek girls rawk plz introduce for a date” it’s not endearing. In fact, it is another way you reduce us to the status of Second Class Geek. I can hear it now, “Why can’t you just take a compliment?!” Or, “Jeez, don’t be so sensitive. I would kill to get that kind of attention.” I’m sure you would. And I’m sure to you it would be as flattering as you mean your comments to be. But, just sit back and think on why that is. Here’s a hint: Your personal agency in geekdom is never questioned, but ours is always qualified by hypothetical male attraction/attachment.

Let’s see this at work, shall we? Again, I’m going to pick on Dahlen. He says [emphasis mine]:

Geek guys don’t look up to the high school quarterbacks that smacked us in the locker room; we’re more impressed by the complicated but confident geek girls, who actually talked to us in the library and always seemed more sure of themselves than the rest of school, no matter who teased them. And now they can slay giants. Who wouldn’t want to be one of them?

Now, the whole “sexy (geek) girls who kick ass” thing he invokes has its own problems. Ignoring that, however, let me just say something…


Are N-O-T

Geeks For You!

Is that clear enough? Is it? I really hope so, because I am going to pull out my Sword of Smiting with a +5 modifier against Privileged Asshats on the next geeky man who thinks geeky women are good because he might get a date. If I sound hostile, try having your geek status always put second to that of your sex/gender for a few years and see how happy you are.

I am sick of my status as Second Class Geek. I am sick of beeing seen as the hawt girl geek. I’m not a geek for the dating pool. And, you know what? Treating me as if I am? So not helping your case. We female geeks are geeks because we have geeky interests. Period. You would do well to remember that next time you want to open your big mouth and reduce us to T&A.

(Hat Tip: New Game Plus)

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This entry was posted in Gender Caste, Gender Cultism, Privilege, The Evil -ism's, Video Games. Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to An Open Letter to Geeky Guys (Non-geeks may learn something, too):

  1. Lake Desire says:

    “His language is your language, guys. Your gut reaction, I’m sure, is to step up and say, “No, I’m not like that!” Maybe you’re not. Maybe you are. But, ask yourself, do you hear it when other people do it? Can you find other examples of it in his article? If I hadn’t pointed it out, would you have even thought twice about what he said?”

    Great point! I’m sure I’ll be quoting you on that one in future discussions.

  2. joyce says:

    wow, this brings me back to the days when i played RO and somehow my whole party will be guys or if i’m wandering around alone (i in girl character) there’s be random things like the whistle @.@

    and where r u now?? not in van, obviously… or.. when r u in van? lol

  3. tekanji says:

    Hey Joyce! I’m still down in Miami. I’ll be back around March, and you can be sure I’ll call you up to hang.

  4. Perinteger says:


    Excellent points. I do wonder, though, if I’m the only person who read the statement about the range of potential male roles differently (you’re not the first person who’s commented on it as a reflection of the author’s views on a woman’s potential). When I read it, I thought he was commenting on the fact that many games force you to assume certain visual characteristics when you play certain character classes – if you pick a paladin, you’re always more muscular and clad in shining armor trimmed in white (for instance).

    I thought he was saying that he found himself asking “does this reflect me” when the avatar was male, but not so concerned with this question when the avatar was female because he didn’t identify as closely with a female avatar. Now, this could be me reading my own view into his words (I know that when I pick an avatar of my own gender I tend to put more thought into the physical characteristics of that avatar then when I gender swap), so I’d be curious to hear your take on my initial interpretation.

    Thanks for pointing out the selfishness in the “geek girl’s rule ’cause I’d love to date one” attitude, btw – that’s always been a pet peeve of mine.

  5. Mickle says:


    I don’t think that your reading of the variety in men’s roles, but not women’s, contradicts tekanji’s. It’s just a different way of saying the same thing. Women are the Other, and Men are not, so Women are homogeneous, but men are individualized.

    The question really then becomes, do women do the same thing (just curious – you say you play other genders, but you don’t say what your gender is)? I would guess not as much or, at the very least, that women deliberately go for characterstics (rather than looks) they identify with – or have always wanted to have – when they switch genders. I don’t think they see men as the same kind of neutral. But that’s just a guess – I don’t play and don’t know many women who do.

  6. Perinteger says:


    You raise an excellent point – it’s useful to see how the motivations behind and methods of gender swapping break down along gender lines. It’s my observation that men and women both tend to be less concerned with what a cross-gender avatar says about their own identity then they would be about an avatar of their own gender. Telling whether or not someone-else is self-identifying from a perspective of personality characteristics or physical characteristics is often a little bit of a guessing game as (in game), the two are intertwined – if you pick a rogue (whose characteristics tend more towards “backstabbing thief”) you’re going to get an avatar that’s more likely to fit that game’s stereotype of a sneak thief whereas the bard (who can usually be described as an “insecure wisecracker”) will often look a bit more narcistic. My sample group is admittedly small but it has the benefit of being evenly split down gender lines.

    If my observation’s are at all representative, then I suspect my reading of Dahlen’s statement does differ slightly from Tekanji’s – in that Dahlen’s statements only reflect male-normalcy if most members of society assume that women make the same assumptions he makes (wow – tie your tongue around that one). If, on the otherhand, most members of society recognize these assumptions as assumptions (rather then mistaking them for observations) and expect them to differ based on the speaker’s gender identity, then Dahlen’s statements about female avatar’s being more characteristic neutral don’t seem to me to reflect male-normalcy because most members of society will recognize them as reflecting Dahlen’s own gender identity.

    I’m sorry all – I’m fixating on a minor point that’s somewhat tangential to Takenji’s thesis. It’s not my intent to derail the conversation, I’m just curious if anyone disagrees with my interpretation.

    I hope you’ll forgive me for skirting your question about my own gender. I usually prefer to at least make an effort to maintain as gender neutral an identity as possible when posting online.

    Also, Mickle, thanks for making me think through the differences between my interpretation and Tekanji’s. I’m often undisciplined about outlining the thoughts that lead up to a question, and that laziness can really break down communications when it goes unchecked.

  7. Perinteger says:

    Sheesh. I’m a fan of “excellent point” today, aren’t I? Raising repetitiousness to an art form, these days, I guess.

  8. Mickle says:

    So, what you are saying that the other gender is, naturally, the other – not that Women are always the Other (in games).

    That would make sense – except that most people designing the games are men, and it seems that views surrounding gender and “the other” are going to creep in when it comes to what choices are available in terms of female characters.

    Again, I could very well be wrong- I’m speculating about something I’ve rarely experienced. This did hold true, however, for the few games I played as a kid that (actually had female characters).

  9. Perinteger says:

    Thus going to show why my professors were always so adamant that I work on succinctness ;)

    I think I missed the forest for the trees on this one. You’re absolutely right. Most game designers try to skirt the issue of Otherness by simply making the male and female character’s abilities identical, but this isn’t really an answer. It still leaves lots of room for the problem to show up in the game’s dialogue and storyline. When Dahlen talks about a female avatar being neutral, he is actually evincing a bias that’s fundamental to the games. I just hadn’t thought to look beyond the immediate effect that selecting a male or female character might have (on the action within the game), so I completely missed some of the indirect effects (on the intricacies of plot and dialogue).

    Thanks again, Mickle. Dialogue makes it easier to more fully explore these ideas.

  10. Mickle says:

    Thank you

    I think you made some good points, including reminding me that just because we women are usually considered the Other doesn’t mean that we should be oblivious to the fact that the tables can be turned – and all the consequences of doing so.

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  13. King Mongo says:

    Two things re: Dahlen’s post.

    #1 His claim, that geek guys don’t idolize QB studs is patently false. Look in the stands at Cal & Stanford football and basketball games–those guys are geeks, cheering the athletic scholarship embarassments that comprise the talent pool on those elite academic institutions’ teams nowadays (as opposed to most Ivy League schools, which for all their other faults, do not deign to stoop when it comes to academic prerequisites for their scholar-athletes). This is not incidental–geek guys jump on the “worship team sports” boat, and they jump on the “chicks in plate mail thongs are hot” boat as well.

    #2 Geek girls as a social subgroup are only appealing if (a) you fetishize them, as Dahlen appears to, or (b) you’ve managed to genuinely divorce yourself from societally defined and imprinted standards of beauty and sexual appeal, which doesn’t really happen in high school for anybody, not even the anarchy kids, most of whom have the exact same cookie-cutter, barbie doll, Japanese school girl pornography that the gym rats and Unix geeks have. It’s just as offensive that someone would fetishize geek girls as that they would fetishize cheerleader girls.

  14. tekanji says:

    It’s just as offensive that someone would fetishize geek girls as that they would fetishize cheerleader girls.

    And here you’ve summed up in one sentence what I have taken a post (and a 3,000+ word essay that I’m interested in seeking publication for) to say.

  15. King Mongo says:

    Yeah, but yours will probably have proof :)

  16. Frog says:

    A couple of things: I agree in general, the fetishisation of geek girls as opposed to other girls is about as offensive as the fetishisation of other girls, and tends to be over-prevalent in this, our internets.

    However, I don’t think that the slotting of male characters into four character types represents a wide variety of personality types. It’s four. That’s not many. Any list of personalities will give you about four times as many (Myers-Briggs, frex, but the specifics here aren’t really important, just that four archetypes are not a lot). I also read ‘neutral territory’ differently, as something that can be shaped with less restrictions than the previously conquered militarised zones of the alpha male (for instance). This certainly leaves women as Other, if you consider the four male options presented (I will concede that the author probably has more in mind than just four) as Self. However, I don’t think it’s a restricted Other, it’s an Other the author is using because it is clearer than Self: it does not have the filters and stupidity attached to “alpha male” or “insecure wisecracker” which cause the character to “never come out the way [he] wants”. I’m not trying to suggest that playing a male character is as fraught with difficulty as our massively oppressed male lives (please note: joke), but that by not being male it’s possible to avoid parts of the major stereotypes in action on the internet (I say major because the majority of players are male, not female, and so the majority of stereotypes are about male behaviours – the stereotypes about female behaviours are just as problematic, if not moreso, but they are less prevalent due to the demographics of the internets), and play, for instance, a wisecracker who is perfectly comfortable with herself, or a leader who does not have to react to challenges with violence and put-downs, as an alpha male must do, etc etc.

    All the protesting aside, I do think that there does need to be a lot more awareness of gender issues on the part of geek boys all over the world, and maybe we should pick up that you’re geeks first, girls second (actually, that’s probably just as bad – perhaps that you’re geeks orthogonally to your gender) as a collective.

    Also, as a side note, I’m pretty sure that the percentage of cal tech geeks who go to ballgames is really small, and they can’t really be relied on as exemplars of geekdom, in terms of the amount of team-sport jock-worship. I know a large percentage of the geeks at my university, and they don’t go to sports events. Ever.

    Um. To summarise my position, if I can: Guys, in general, are still dumb about gender stuff. There’s still an expectation that girls are there for guys’ benefit, some kind of hybrid eye-candy and provider of the thrill of novelty thing. That needs to change. But I also think that many geek guys are aware of these issues (obviously not all of us – I’m probably as ignorant as your average goat, feel free to tell me how wrong and stupid I am, if appropriate) than your average guy, and I also think that many readings are performed with the mindset of the reader as a given, not in a vacuum. It’s easy to interpret something as sexist, while others interpret it as neutral or even quite positive in terms of gender relations, and it’s very hard to disentangle the mindset from the reading. I can’t do it, I apologise that my reading is pretty firmly entrenched in a male mind (I do try to be aware of my privilege, though). I hope it can be useful as a sparkpoint for further discussion, though. I’m not very attached to my viewpoints and I enjoy having them challenged/changed…

  17. Boots says:

    I just read through your ‘how to be a real nice guy’ article and loved it, so followed the link here. Using your own sympathy vs. empathy rule, you’ve sure got the self-conscious, middle-class, white, male viewpoint down pat.

    I have to raise one issue in your article. I am a heterosexual male gamer, and I feel I’m quite a sympathetic person generally, but I find it VERY difficult to play female characters, or even homosexual males. That being said, I can see Dahlen’s point – I read it more (in the excerpts) as him saying that he feels tied to gender stereotypes when he plays within his own gender, but feels freed by gender-bending. Your reading is valid, and you’re right – I’d never have spotted that normative language had you not pointed it out. But I still don’t think that particular example shows normative language being used to enfoce feminine passivity – I think it’s more about allowing him to escape the stereotypes enforced on him by hos perceptions of masculinity. I may well be wrong. Ironic that I’m still arguing for the primacy of masculinity when i’m not intending to…

    On the other hand, amen to your point about geek girls not being geeks for geek guys. My gaming-social group is full of men who THINK they are being progressive by saying they love ‘confident’ geek girls, almost word for word from your example. The fact many of the women in the social gaming group don’t game but are there for like-minded geek company (but NOT necessarily dating!) doesn’t seem to do anything but exacerbate these men’s assumptions that geek girls are only there in support of geek guys – the gaming is the main event, the girls an added bonus.

    I think may be guilty of this as well; I have at many times in my life felt I don’t want to date a gamer, but I tell myself it’s more about not wanting uncomfortable meetings post-breakup – you can’t escape anyone in a scene this small. Recently I’ve been feeling I WOUDL like to date a gamer, because shared interests are good things in relationships. Your article makes me realise that no matter how much I rationalise it, these viewpoints are still objectifying people in terms of gender and subculture – I may as well be saying I’m looking for someone who is a geek for me!

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  19. Liz says:

    I want to say something that isn’t strictly related to the post, but has been brought up in the comments: there are lots of reasons that people, including geeks male and female, go to college sporting events. I don’t care for football, which is the sport that’s been specifically mentioned in some other comments, but I (a serious gamer geek, and also a girl) go to baseball games anytime I get the chance, watch them on TV, briefly participated in a fantasy baseball league until I got fed up with being offered really stupid trades and obsessing over whether part of the reason people tried to get away with that was because I listed myself with a female name — in short, I am a fan of a sport. So are a bunch of my geek friends. I don’t think that I, or the majority of my geek friends, am there because of a fetishization of the players or of the sport itself, although it’s always possible that I’m not aware of my own fetishization. I’m there because it’s fun to watch, and it’s fun to yell unproductive but brilliant managerial decisions at the TV. I have friends who are there because they really, really like the statistical and strategic aspect of the game (those are the friends who tend to be super-active in fantasy leagues, and also who love to play chess and Risk and strategy-oriented games). I have friends who are there because they like taking a few hours to sit around with friends and chat and goof off and have some snacks and drinks, and they don’t especially care what’s going on in the background, whether it’s a baseball game or whatever else. This isn’t a huge deal; it’s just that it’s another arena, like gaming, where my interest is constantly called into question because of my gender, and that’s annoying, and I imagine it’s just as annoying for guys to hear that the only reason they’re there is that they’ve bought into a cultural fetishization of physically skilled men as it is for me to hear that the only reason I’m there is that boys in tight pants are cute.

  20. Nathanael Nerode says:

    Think about this. I’m male and I nearly *always* role-play female characters (in games where I have a choice). I’m not comfortable role-playing male characters; perhaps because of the macho stereotyping which gets pushed on them. (I get enough of that in my daily life.) I don’t know why really, but I just gravitate towards female characters. In D&D too.

    I’ve met a few other people like me. One thing about us is that we are usually very serious about our characters. If you meet me in an MMORPG, you will probably assume
    I am female. (And, yes, fending off the suggestive comments does get really annoying.) You’ll never know unless you ask. In contrast, there are a lot of female characters which are very clearly being played by males, who usually don’t bother to hide it or to get into character very much, and who reveal their ignorance of what it’s like to be female to a degree even *I*, a male who believes that there are few if any essential differences between men and women, can spot.

    I know of at least one case where a serious male role-player playing a female character really shocked and offended a male player, because their characters had been having a romance, and when he found out that her player was male, I guess homophobia kicked in….

    Just random thoughts.

  21. BiSHoP says:

    This certainly leaves women as Other, if you consider the four male options presented (I will concede that the author probably has more in mind than just four) as Self. However, I don’t think it’s a restricted Other, it’s an Other the author is using because it is clearer than Self: it does not have the filters and stupidity attached to “alpha male” or “insecure wisecracker” which cause the character to “never come out the way [he] wants”. I’m not trying to suggest that playing a male character is as fraught with difficulty as our massively oppressed male lives

  22. Danielle says:

    I have acquaintances who introduce me as smart and then want to “say something smart”. So I take out my little tambourine and I dance like a monkey? Right. Good points made here. We are not monkeys to dance for the pleasure of others.

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  24. Happy Geeky Girl says:

    Great post! Took me long enough to find it.
    Comebacks are the best thing for your arsenal, geeky ladies. I too am a geek girl. I’m taken but I like to keep the comebacks… except its so hard to use the good ones at conferences :S

    Any guy dumb enough to think I exist for him to date isn’t smart enough for me to consider mixing genes with.

  25. Cindy says:

    Well, I don’t classify myself as a “geek girl” (I’m not smart enough), but I’ve played a few MUD’s.

    My main isssues were with the other female players, NOT the guys. I tell you, some women really shoot themselves in the foot. While engaged in a confrontation with one particularly rotten female, she blurted out “I’m prettier than you!”. Now, nevermind the fact that this had absolutely NOTHING to do with gameplay… but this moron had never even laid eyes on me!

    In contrast, one of my allies in the game (a male) said something that really threw me backwards. I was planning a sneak attack on the above-mentioned wench, but got scared and was trying to chicken out. Well, the male friend got very upset and scolded me for trying to “whimp out”. I was shocked that he thought that highly of me and held me to what is usually considered male standards of bravery. Far too often, female weakness is permitted (if not encouraged) in our society. I thought it was great that this guy had the same expectations of me that he would have of another male player. It was nice to be treated as an equal, for once.

    Final thoughts: Many times, women are their own worst enemies. I’ve always gotten along much better with men because they are, obviously, not obsessed with competing against me for male attention. Also, in my experiances, men do not gossip about me behind my back, like other women do. In my high school years, it was the girls who treated me like crap (a sort of Carrie situation. lol), but most of the guys were very nice to me. So, I wont be jumping on the feminist bandwagon any time soon.

  26. tekanji says:

    Cindy: I was going to give your response a real answer, but given that I just deleted another comment from you that was a long-winded way of you saying, “Nyah-nyah, I’m a troll who is entitled to be a big asshole to you, oh yeah and I’m too good to respect the rules of your blog,” I’m not exactly feeling charitable towards you at the moment. You may think that you’re a special fucking snowflake because you aren’t like those women, but the truth is that you are a woman, just like me and all the other female-identified people out there. The problem with being “one of the guys” is that when it comes down to it you aren’t a guy and hanging out with people who share the same low opinion of women as you do only means that they utlimately think about you in the same way. So enjoy your exceptionalism while it lasts; I don’t envy you. When reality hits you, it’s going to hit pretty fucking hard.

  27. Seshat says:

    One of the things that’s truly sad is that nearly thirty years later, this strip is still current and appropriate.

    Le sigh.

  28. Tom says:

    Randomly arrived and late to the party so please excuse any threadomancy but I have a curiosity on this subject that it seems you and your readers may be well able to answer.

    Preamble: From my own perspective I don’t ‘fetishise’ geek girls [or any other girls for that matter] but I am attracted to girls. Having been in several relationships I have learned at least as many lessons. One of these lessons is that having common ground and interests which can be shared is a good thing to both harmony and longevity.

    I am a geek and many of the things which interest me most could be considered geeky to a greater or lesser extent.

    So if we couple: Physically attractive [to me] + Interested in geeky things I am more likely to be interested in initiating a relationship than say: attractive female + very religious [something which I wouldn’t enjoy]

    However, statistically the former are far less common than the latter.

    Therefore I have an automatic level of interest in a female geek who is attractive to me. [if only to understand what garnered her interest in geekery as this may be something that will also interest other girls of my aquaintance.

    Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to ask is what advice would you give to the male in this equation, who finds a girl attractive because she is also a geek and wants to start a relationship [on whatever level] but who doesn’t intend or want to diminish their right to be both a girl and a geek but has likely sufferred a fair amount of unwanted attention perhaps soley for their scarcity and a lack of social skills or consideration from the predominantly male society?

    My thinking in the scenario would go: Hey, it’s an attractive girl who shares at least some common interests with me, i’d like to initiate a relationship with her and get to know her better… I wonder if she to would be interested. Is this a reasonable thought process or am I missing things?

    [From your article what I understand is found particularly galling is the assumption that for a female to enter a predominantly male society, the assumption is that she has come for the males rather than the society.]

    NB – I’m not sure if the above includes any undesirable terminology , if it is please let me know and I will be happy to change it.]

  29. tekanji says:

    Tom said:

    My thinking in the scenario would go: Hey, it’s an attractive girl who shares at least some common interests with me, i’d like to initiate a relationship with her and get to know her better… I wonder if she to would be interested. Is this a reasonable thought process or am I missing things?

    Sounds reasonable to me. I can’t speak for any other woman (or girl) but myself, but personally I think that we all seek to form relationships with people who attract us in some way (not necessarily sexually).

    The problem comes in when, as you say, when guys view women primarily in relation to themselves and other guys. It erases the woman because it positions her hobbies, her likes, her views, her entire self as secondary to the men around her.

    There’s nothing wrong with you wanting to be friends with someone you’re romantically and/or sexually attracted to, as long as you don’t make that the most important thing about your relationship. It also shouldn’t be the only reason you’re friends with her; indeed, if she’s not someone you would be friends with if you found her unattractive, then you shouldn’t try to force a relationship (not even a friendship).

  30. genewitch says:

    Wanted to let you know i found this via PZ Myer’s comments, tekanji. Your words are thought provoking and a fantastic read. I wouldn’t mind if someone wanted to teach these ideas to high school students!

    I haven’t checked if you’re still posting, hopefully you are and i look forward to reading more in the future.


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