I feel like Natania Barron must have been looking over my shoulder all throughout Montessori school, mainstream private elementary school, and mainstream public elementary, middle, and high school. In her article for Wired.com, “5 Tips for Raising Your Girl Geek,” she tells it like it is for us girls who never fit in:
Geek girls don’t watch the right shows. They don’t go to the right movies. They don’t listen to the right music. And unfortunately, pop culture provides the clues by which kids sort each other out; it’s almost as obvious as the clothes they wear. When I was younger, I loved “The X-Files”, Westerns and They Might Be Giants. I quoted Monty Python and the Holy Grail with my handful of guy friends, but certainly didn’t win points in the cool crowd. Often girl geeks fall into this odd no-man’s land. We are passionate about the things we like, but share them with very few. Especially in a high school or junior high-school setting. That can lead to teasing, isolation, and ultimately, depression. […]
Many young geeklets tend to be smart. Whether it’s math, science, English or art (or all of the above), young girl geeks will excel in something. And coupled with the geeky tendencies and often bookish nature, this doesn’t exactly contribute to popularity (not that they want to be popular, but you know what I mean). […]
There wasn’t always a culture of geek girls. We didn’t always have pride, solidarity and ironic 16-bit graphic t-shirts. And even some girls don’t realize they’re geeks at all. As such, they feel like they never fit in. Even though they assert they don’t want to be the crowd, they can’t help but feel on the outskirts. This can lead to a poor self-image, which is never a good thing. While popularity isn’t important, self-worth always is.
It’s refreshing to see honest discussion about what a hard time smart, outspoken, and different girls have in school, even to an audience as sympathetic as Wired‘s undoubtedly is. However, I felt a little unsure about one paragraph. I’ve been mulling over how to talk about my complicated relationship to gender identity in this space, because I think it’s an important thing to introduce to audiences not used to thinking about gender. Weirdly enough, a problematic-seeming graf in a Wired article gives me the jumping-off point:
There are more boy geeks than girl geeks. At least, that was my experience. And many geek girls discover more friends among guys than girls. This can lead to feeling of self-consciousness and a lack of connection with other girls. While this isn’t always a bad thing, I definitely had trouble making gal friends as I got older, and assumed there were so few geek girls that it wasn’t worth the trouble. Good, enduring relationships between girls are important, not just for your daughter’s social growth, but emotionally as well. Not to mention, having tons of guy friends can be an issue when dating starts…
Oh my god, is this ever the story of my life, but perhaps in a different way than Barron intends. I remember when I was in 8th grade, and begged my mom to take me to Target so I could buy my first pair of cargo shorts. I wanted to shed my outlandish Society for Creative Anachronism-style costumes so that I could fit in better with my boy-geek friends who were having difficulty processing the fact that a girl wanted to be “one of the guys.” In many respects, that desire has driven how I’ve related to my identity as a girl and eventually as a woman for the past eight years. But I do object to Barron’s assumption of her hypothetical girl-geek’s heterosexuality—particularly when most of the girl-geeks I know, I think, identify as gay or bisexual or amorphously queer, even if they have only ever dated men. And I don’t think that’s just a reflection of my little “rainbow bubble”: they have a relationship to their sexuality that they know is non-normative, because, as Barron’s article suggests, they feel so estranged from standard and accepted models of female sexuality and appearance.
In my sophomore and junior years of high school, I went through a period of really hating womanness and femininity. I pissed off a lot of my female friends and some of my feminist male friends as well, and it’s not a period of my intellectual development that I’m proud of. When one friend told me that he didn’t see me as a feminist, it was a wake-up call, and I started to adjust how I thought about gender, and to distinguish positive femininity from negative femininity, if that makes sense. Nevertheless, I have this lingering estrangement from being a woman, and this sense that perhaps it’s not particularly important to make friends who are girls just for the sake of making friends who are girls, or that it really doesn’t matter whether you have lots of friends who are boys when you’re old enough to be dating. At least, it’s no more important than having friends who are of different races or nationalities or socioeconomic backgrounds. After all, in my experience, my male friends are more likely to date men than I am.
But (and here comes the TMI part that I do nevertheless think it’s important to have a conversation about, because maybe others can relate, and this doesn’t really get talked about ever) I don’t really date women either. I may call myself a dyke, but amorphously queer and androgynous asexuality is more my style. My social skills with regard to patterns of gendered interaction have been knocked pretty well out of balance from many of years of trying to seek acceptance from and inclusion in the boy-geeks’ club. Feeling completely alienated from the fact that I am a woman plus the complete desexualization of myself and everyone I ever interact with (necessary to get into the boy-geeks’ club, you see—to not be seen as Woman and therefore foreign/threatening) does not a healthy relationship to sexuality and gender identity make.
I am so thankful that this subject is getting some attention from Wired, and hope that maybe the boy-geeks who read the magazine will realize what a threat they pose to the self-confidence of the girl-geeks who seek entrance into their world. But I’d like to see it addressed, too, in a manner that plays to non-normative sexualities and gender identities—possibly in a way that uses queer theory to explore this relationship to femininity and woman-esque gender identity. Anyone?