Courtney Stoker, Patriarchy, and Geek Misogyny

22:26 Mon 23 Aug 2010
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This is one of the better discussions on prejudice in geek culture that I’ve come across: “Courtney Stoker on Feminist Geek”. I like where Stoker is coming from—perhaps unsurprisingly, for like me she has an academic background in English literature and is also a science fiction fan. But she is far more community-oriented than I am; despite the fact that my geekery goes back decades and despite my involvement in something like Fantasy Bedtime Hour, my engagement with science fiction is primarily either private, or shared through meatspace discussion, or expressed on this blog. None of those things are involvement with large-scale communities such as those Stoker is discussing.

One of the reasons this particular interview with Stoker is important is that she sensibly addresses the influence of anti-geek prejudice on male geeks.

By “sensibly”, I mean she correctly points out that the culture that leads to ostracization of geeks in their teens is inextricably linked to patriarchy, and that by adopting misogynistic attitudes they’re just buying into the value system that was used against them in the first place:

By becoming misogynists, geek men actually reinforce the sexist standards that lead to them getting beat up or made fun of as kids. Patriarchy is still to blame. And the inability to recognize this, not only by the individual geeks who become misogynists, but by critics of geek culture, makes sexism in these communities difficult to diagnose and counteract.

—Amanda Hess. “Courtney Stoker on Feminist Geek”. The Sexist, 29 June 2010.

This isn’t a revelation for me, in fact it’s rather a depressingly obvious manifestation of one of the most despair-inducing human failings: the inability of the oppressed to generalize beyond the injustice of their own particular oppression to a larger rejection of prejudice and inequality. That, and its corollary, the tendency of oppressed groups to seek other groups (internal or external) that they themselves can look down on, in a misguided attempt to shore up the psychic damage they’ve suffered by placing themselves in a position to inflict it on others.

As obvious as it might be, I haven’t seen it formulated as such from the feminist side too often in this context, and am glad that Stoker points it out here. I’m not sure I agree with her analysis of how “Growing Up (Male) Geek” is not equivalent to institutional disenfranchisement, partly because I’m not sure whether she means that the young geeks or their older selves lack institutional power. If she means the latter, I mostly concur, with a pair of caveats: it’s important to recognize the amount of damage that can be done to people when they’re children by bullying and disenfranchisement, and to reject the values that led to said bullying and disenfranchisement; it’s also important for individuals, regardless of their past histories, to take responsibility for their own thoughts and hence their own prejudices, and to do the work to overcome these prejudices.

I have no doubt that I’ll cover this ground again, as I have too many reactions for just one post.

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