09 April 2008

The Girly and the Geeky: Mutually Exclusive?

I just read Liz Henry's critique of San Francisco Magazine's story on Marissa Mayer (Google VP). That, of course, led to reading the actual article. Most of the article is pretty good, seemingly meant to show that geeks aren't all freaks—some of them can actually function—but there are a few things which Liz pointed out that just don't sit quite right, like implying she slept her way to the top. I suggest reading her article to see what the others are.

The main point she makes is similar to one I saw in an article about Hillary Clinton and the "pink ceiling": in our society, women can be strong or feminine, not both. If you're a strong leader or exceptionally geeky, you are automatically more masculine because that's "boy stuff." and if you're girly, you must not be very serious or reliable when it comes to that sort of "boy stuff." I highly suggest reading all of the above links if you're not understanding what I mean.

Last week, TEA, a committee of Allied in Pride, my school's GLBTQ group had a workshop called Trans 101. In it, we had a little exercise where we drew things that represent ourselves. I drew my usual loose t-shirt & jeans, a pretty dress & heels, a computer, and a bunch of 1's and 0's. We were then asked to cross out what didn't stereotypically fit our assigned gender. Well, there go the computer, binary, and loose clothes. We were then asked if there are things we crossed out which we hide because they don't fit how we're supposed to be or act or what we're supposed to like.

I told them I do just the opposite. I hide the girly things about myself. Why? I'm a computer science student. Most of my time is spent in an engineering school. Almost everyone else is a guy. Well, I can be a geek or a girl. I know I'm both, but how will others react to me? I don't think I'd get the same level of respect as a girly girl as I do as a hardcore geek, even if underneath I was still geeky ol' me at heart. I've opted to be "one of the guys" to avoid being that girl who probably doesn't even like computers and is just in CS because she heard it pays.

Elfine, a close friend of mine, has decided to do exactly the opposite of what I do. She got tired of the "why does she like computers? what a freak!" attitude other girls had, so she ditched public geekiness (I just ditched trying to be friends with girls who value fashion over brains). She carries a pink EeePC in a pink purse along with a wireless mouse which she hides in a cosmetic bag (tricky, eh?). She said when she went to a 2600 meetup she got funny looks from a guy there for having the pink laptop. She intends to take a white laptop to DEFCON avoid the looks and hopefully stave off the "she must be a non-geek who was dragged along by her boyfriend" assumptions. We're trying to get an apartment together. Guess what our #1 and #2 concerns are?

  1. Is there enough room for all of our computers?
  2. Will the ISP let us set up a server?

Well, let's see if this really is oil and water. Can I keep my binary watch, my Debian-command belt, and continue to run on 20 hours of computers and 4 hours of sleep while being girly? So far, I've been wearing nail polish since January. It's always ended up horribly chipped and mangled, mind you, so I ought to learn to paint them more often, but this is a start. I got "WTF? You look like Frieda Kahlo!" a couple weeks ago when I walked into a databases class when painful sunburn meant jeans were an impossibility, forcing me into skirts in 40°F weather. The blog's new look? Well, you all said the green was hard to read, so I might as well try something new! Besides, it matches my nails.


John R said...

I think the biggest problem for the advancement of society's views on women stems from one (maybe two) major "problems."

- The stereotypical "blond bimbo", in which the female in question is both overly-confident of her looks, and incredibly bone-headed, ignorant, or just plain stupid concerning 99% of everyday life. These "feminine" women exist solely as means of attracting male attention, and they ruin the notions our society has of feminine members of humanity. Add to this the fact that Hollywood and marketing/advertising bureaus blast us with images and ideas furthering this sort of stereotype that feminine women are good for nothing but sex, and it's almost impossible for people growing up to find out the truth.

If we could have a generation of children grow up out of reach of the sex-marketing industry, and instead in a society where women can be both strong and feminine, I'm sure your concerns would be quickly vanishing...

kef said...

and as a short term solution you can try and adopt my patented "screw those who don't appreciate me" attitude. it has worked quite well for me so far and you mentioned that you already crossed out fashionheads as potential friends so i suggest you give it a try. probably won't make you the most popular person in the class but it sure beats pretending to be someone you are not.
ps: didn't know where to submit this but you might want to change the color of the result parts of the polls, numbers are not visible unless they are submerged by the pink bars.

Rikostan said...

I agree with kef. Your friend shouldn't drop the pink laptop because some guy gave her a funny look. We need more people to stand out, not try and fit in.

Granted that is easy for me to say, since I look like a geek and I am 40. I realize it is harder for younger people to go their own way.

Lynoure Braakman said...

I've never felt any reason to hide my physical* gender or my geekiness, and the result is this skirtwearing sysadmin person.

I don't think it has resulted in anything bad so far. :)

*) I was born a bit genderblind, so I think my mind is my mind, not a female specimen.

Adam said...

Guess what our #1 and #2 concerns are? Is there enough room for all of our computers? Will the ISP let us set up a server?

I hear that... Found out that there really isn't room for 2 desktops and my laptop in the new place... Guess it's time to invest in a KVM!

Now, onto the real topic at hand... Honestly, I don't see a reason why the 2 don't fit. Yes, there's the whole "blond bimbo" deal and the joke about the blond using whiteout on the monitor, but that's got to be a minority! I know quite a few girls who, whether they like it or not, really are geeks.

Hell, I like it :)


p.s. I think your friend needs to put on a skirt and carry that pink EeePC to DEFCON!

Anonymous said...

thanks for both of those links. A Dr. Phil-ism comes to mind "If you knew how infreqently people thought about you, you'd never be concerned with what they thought". Be yourself. I was just browsing my copy of eWeek and it lists the top 100 most influential IT people. Number 5: Marissa Mayer. Number 10: Page & Brin (her bosses). (#15 Linus, #68 Shuttleworth)

Mackenzie said...

I can't change the font colors on the poll, I don't think. The polls are done with an iframe (I didn't code it! It's Blogger's thing!). I don't think the main page's style can affect it, and if it can, it won't win the cascade.

Anonymous said...

Be happy with who you are first and formost. If your change things, or even hiding them from others, then they need to take time to understand that you are a human just like them or they aren't the type to hang out with.

Any way I think I will subscribe to the blog in hopes of articles like such. You got me thinking again, god how long has it been....

Anonymous said...

I think geeks in general have a hard time being understood by non-geeks regardless of gender. I bet it is harder for females to be accepted as geeks as you pointed out in this blog post.
It is easier said then done but good luck on being yourself and geeky at the same time. When people accuse me of being the stereotypical male geek I usually regard it as a complement since I accept that as the truth. I hope you can do the same when someone accuses you of being girly and geeky.

maniacmusician said...

This is a really cool thing to think about, since it's such a complex dynamic. I mean, because a girl is a girl, there will be differences in the way she's treated, because of things like role expectancies, social courtesies and attitudes, etc. There's always the cliche/joke about an attractive woman in a group of geeks, and the social dynamic that ensues. Would in reality a woman among geeks get treated like that? Well, I mean depending on the area, I'm guessing you're bound to get a few guys that stare. But at this point, being that gender discrimination is an insecure topic for a lot of males, you really are more likely to get guys that will try to act really normally around you,l even if they still persistently notice your femininity.

But, the topic at hand is really about if there's a balanced image you could have, and trying to get it to become a reality. As far as I can see, you're doing the right thing so far. I would be careful to not overcompensate and over-accentuate to represent your "girliness." Keeping your image in line with your real personality is a really good way to decrease the chances of self-image issues.

As for the geek aspect, I mean...you seem to me to be a pretty geeky person. So, I mean, just show it. Believe it or not, guys like geeky girls, because there aren't very many of them. I personally enjoy being friends with girls that I can talk to about Linux, and gritty hardware details, quality of code in certain projects. Even argue with about user interface design, feature importance, etc. I also have the added bonus of being able to talk about things that other guys usually aren't comfortable talking about (unfortunately).

People have been hesitant to mention it here, but a lot of geeky guys find geeky girls to be more attractive. So, as a female in a setting like that, you may find that you get hit on more often than you would in a non-geek group of males. I think it's a really weird social dynamic to think about, especially if we're considering it in relation to our personal tendencies (which I know a lot of us are). I mean, I personally, do feel more attracted to a girl that I can connect with on a wider level and on more topics, because there's just that many more things that we're both so passionate about.

This can't possibly be wrong in a moral sense; we all categorize the people around us by traits, behaviors, and we use those categories to define what we like and what we don't. For example, some people like females who are physically energetic, like to do activities that involve moving around like dancing, or walking, or traveling. Others like females who are reserved, like to talk about things. We can like people depending on what they do, such as liking writers and poets because of the open eagerness they have, and how they explore the world and their emotions.

Along those same lines, people can like geeks, which generally entails interest in technical things like computers and Linux, general curiosity about the way everything works, knowing a lot about how things work on the inside. So, I know it's not wrong in that sense. But, at the same, it can be uncomfortable for a person like you, who is already made to feel weird by being a geek and a girl, to have more male attention because of your inherent geekiness, and again, something that you're already feeling some sort of insecurities about.

Well, maybe I should've left it at "it's such a complex dynamic." Sorry, I find myself guilty of being a psychology student; I just can't help myself when it comes to topics like these, I just have an insatiable interest for social dynamics. I love thinking about it. Come to think of it, because of my inherent maleness, this post will be read in a different light, considering the things I talked about; I hope not too much is misconstrued. I didn't mean for it to be so much a political stance, but just trying to not let gender separation to affect what I wanted to say about the topic.

Rockstarlicious said...

A number of years back I was surprised to meet girly, sexy female programmers while travelling for my job. It challenged my assumptions at the time, but since then I've met many more, including a good friend who works for a major airline and has database patents under her name. I think maybe there's more acceptance of geek+girl in some regions and corporate cultures, and people that are unable to accept and comprehend that duality in 2008 are living in the dark ages. Clearly you are not. Follow your bliss, to thine own self be true, and all that jazz. You are rocking the world.

Anonymous said...

As a publicly self-admitted geek whose job is primarily dependent on both my brains and my appearance, I've found interesting ways to combine the girly and the geeky.

For example, my Sony VAIO is the same shade of red as my favorite red nail polish and lipstick. (Yes, I was inspired by the "what kind of girl drives a Hemi 'cuda?" question in Gone in 60 Seconds)

My job is fairly unique, in that my clients primarily find me because they're looking for brains and beauty... but I do still have to put up with the stereotypical knee-jerk reactions, sometimes. Generally, this takes the form of the question: "But you're smart! Why don't you get a real job?"

Aggravating, but that's generally when I just make them buy me shiny tech that they don't understand. ^.^