This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.
True story! I’m a wife now. I’ve moved up in the WAG acronym.
There’s been a lot of pushback on Cate’s guest post and with good reason, because it can be easily read as positing that geek woman are mutually exclusive from women who have a geek partner dichotomy:
She’s not a techie, she’s a girlfriend
the girlfriend… the lead user… the commenter
a girlfriend… rather than a genuine tech woman
the girlfriend, or another woman near tech
Sorry girlfriend, you’re not a geek.
Here’s another thing: there’s a lot of geek my then-boyfriend-now-husband introduced me to. Linux was a big one. A great deal of the C programming language. Digital music, both ripping and listening. Actual other living geeks, as opposed to Eric Raymond’s J Random Hacker. Suffice to say that his influence on the nature of my geekdom has been substantial (and vice versa, which needs to be said).
And frankly while a lot of people are introduced to geekdom or new geekdoms by partners, it’s considered rather a shameful thing in my experience, especially if it was a male partner. If a man taught a woman to do something, or a man remains better at that thing than the woman he taught is at it, it’s as if the woman doesn’t have that interest or skill at all. She is assumed to be the man’s puppet.
There is something real, in my experience, about less involved women being asked to give “the woman’s perspective” on geekdom, as if their experience is “more woman” than that of heavily involved geek women, as if very geeky women have forfeited “the woman’s perspective”. But there’s also equally difficult experiences:
- the assumption by geeks that a woman geek with a partner, especially a male one, is not geeky, or only geeky because of internal relationship dynamics, rather than being ‘really’ geeky (whatever that means)
- the experience some non-geek women or newly geek women report, of experiencing hostility from geek women for “making them look bad” and from geeks in general for being too mainstream or feminine (and hence boring or thoughtless)
We’re not going to get anywhere with the above by talking about girlfriends as if they aren’t us, or as if they can’t become us or we them. I think that adopting
girlfriend as a metaphor is harmful: the primary meaning is (some subset of) women who have a partner. Anything said about
metaphorical girlfriends will quickly be taken to apply to
literal girlfriends, as in women who have partners, and used against them, even if it was supposed to be a metaphor for women who are granted some credibility as more woman because they are less geek (which is, I think, what Cate is using the term “girlfriend” to mean, although it isn’t totally clear to me).
We have to not feed the “femininity is mainstream and therefore not geek” beast.
Additional concerns about Cate’s post that were raised in her comments and which I share:
- the geekiness hierarchy in which people who build things trump people who comment, use, or analyse in geekiness. If nothing else, I personally spend a lot of time writing feminist stuff on the Internet, as well as coding, and I’m not accustomed to thinking of one as the less geeky activity than the other
- the conflation of “geek” with “programmer” or “computer geek”, which as several commenters noted we’re rightly committed to not doing around here
By the way, a little bit of background on our process: guest posts here tend to be selected by one author and put up here, we all have access to the “Guest Poster” account. So that accounts for the appearance of a guest post with a message/metaphor that I at least don’t especially like, if you are wondering! There’s no cabal, etc.