Monday, 2 September 2013

Wake up Geeks: We Won

It has been a long time since I have posted on here. If I look back at the posts on this blog, I'll probably shake my head at old me. However, I needed a venue to talk about something, and this is the best one I have.

There has been a lot of discussion in the InfoSec community about sexism, and attitude towards women. This is something, that I think, we are all aware of. This discussion isn't just happening in the InfoSec community though. It is across the 'Geek' community writ large. There has been a backlash against the so called 'fake geek girls' or 'fake gamer girls'. This image is the most recent example of this dialogue, and it made me smile a bit.

The "Fake geek Girl" thing has been going for a while now. One of the more notable examples is the attacks on Felicia Day. If Felicia's not a real geek, then I don't know who is, but let's not focus too much on specifics. There is obviously a fair bit of misogyny floating around out there, which fuels part of this. Some of it can be chalked up to immature people being unable to handle smart attractive females in their community. I think it goes deeper than that. While I did not grow up female, I am married and have four daughters, so forgive me the hubris of discussing a bit of growing up female.

Men , as we grow up we are expected to behave a certain way. There are consequences if we fall outside those norms. Mostly though it comes down to the simple forms of bullying we all remember. We might get picked on, or even get into fights. Girls often seem to have a different experience. The expectations on their behaviour and conformity are, for whatever reason, much stronger and more constricting. Girls are often ostracized for being geeky or nerdy. They are verbally and mentally abused on a much more profound level. As children, it seems like girls are much more social than boys. That is not to say that boys do not fall into groups, or that the group dynamic isn't important. However, the 'loner' persona is still some degree of acceptable for boys. A girl who is loner is just further ostracized by people around her. Why is she a loner? she must be weird. There must be something wrong with her. There is an awful downward spiral that seems to exist there. The point I am driving at, is that it is much harder for girls to be openly geeky growing up than boys. That's the way it seems to me anyways. Maybe I am wrong.

One final note before I move on. Even if you found one of these 'fake geek girls', so what? First of all, how does it possibly hurt you? Secondly, why do you think they are doing it? Does it not stand to reason that they must see some inherent value in the things you also value? Maybe they identify with the culture, but don't understand how to be a part of it yet. Maybe they feel trapped on the outside trying to get in. Why shun these people, when you could help them? If they need a hand 'really' getting into the culture. Help them. Show them things they might like, talk to them about stuff. I've got news for you: there is no grand conspiracy of attractive women trying to infiltrate ComicCons in order to destroy them forever. We can only win when we convert new people.

Let's talk about this concept of feeling trapped on the outside a bit more. I think this gets more to the heart of the matter. time to leave gender at the door. I've had a long running theory that we hackers have a common thing binding us in some way. Look around the hacker/infosec community. We are a diverse lot. The same goes for gamers, comic fans, otaku, or even punk rock. I asked myself what explains why such vastly different people all ended up with the same love. My theory is this: a feeling of being powerless.

I believe that most, if not all, hackers have had a period in their life where they feel powerless. That is a horrible feeling, and it can do horrible things to you. Getting into hacking gives you a world where you can feel powerful. It is a world where your drive and your intellect determine just how powerful you really are. I think this same theory extends to a lot of the other 'geek' areas. Gaming ( D&D, board games, video games, doesn't matter), comics, sci-fi and fantasy novels, even Punk Rock. Hell Punk Rock is an easy one. The entire Punk attitude is about feeling stepped on and powerless and trying to take back some of that power by raising your voice.

When we were growing up, we felt that powerlessness, and we looked for avenues to not feel that way anymore. We clung to these things. Maybe liking some of these things is what set us apart in the first place, but that just reinforced how much we needed that part of ourselves. Fellow children of the 80s, I think, will feels this especially.

Fast forward to the modern-day though. Punk Rock music is pretty mainstream, and has influenced the newer genres of music. People in their 30s and 40s go around listening to the Misfits, or the Ramones, or the Dead Kennedys etc. ComicCons are everywhere and have massive attendances. DefCon had ~15,000 people in attendance this year. There are more Hacker/InfoSec conferences around the world than I can count anymore. The Lord of the Rings movies were some of the highest grossing movies ever. Some other box office favorites include practically every comic book movie made in the past 15 years. Video Game sales are off the charts and millions of people play things like Magic the Gathering every day. Rel1k is going on news programs to be interviewed as an expert, instead of 'scary hacker guy'.

Wake up Geeks, we won!

The things we like are everywhere. They are doing better than ever. Our sub-cultures are flourishing. New people want in. They like what they see. In other words: we now have the power.

So what are we doing with that power? Well, some of us are doing the same exact things that we hated when we were young and powerless. We are becoming elitist, and exclusionary. We are using our power to feel big, and make other people feel small. In the end, that behaviour makes us small though. Some of us are squandering our power and influence when we could be doing so much with it.

I say some of us, because there are plenty of people who aren't doing this. Wil Wheaton often says something I really like. I don't have a direct quote handy, but it goes something like "Being a Geek isn't about what you love, it's about how you love it". He goes on to talk about bonding with people who love other cool things the way you do.

I mentioned Punk Rock earlier, because i think it fits in with this same model. There are two great articles written by Greg Graffin, the lead signed of Bad Religion. I cannot find the originals anymore, but copies can be found at and . The second one is especially important to me, and really relevant to this discussion.  He talks about how Punk was supposed to be about having an inclusive community of people who were different from the norm. It quickly turned into just another group to exclude people from. It just changed who got to do the excluding.

You can choose to disagree, or even disregard me. Take a look around though. Whether you are a Punk, a Hacker, a Comic Geek, Gamer, Otaku, or whatever.  You have power now. Your culture has value, and influence, and so do you. Use it to change things. Don't repeat the same crap that probably made your childhood hard or unbearable. Let's make life for the next generation better than it was for us. If you see someone struggling to fit in to your community: help them! Show them around, introduce them to people. Introduce them to things you like, find out what they like. Chances are, both of you will grow from it.

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