Life as an Extreme Sport

First the Fake Geek Girl, Now the Philly LadyNerd

Apparently not content to let the fake geek girl meme go unchallenged, Technically Philly lowers the bar today and offers us an infographic on what a Philly LadyNerd looks like. This is apparently in response to “what your average Philly geek dude might look like.” Pay attention to the language: Technically Philly wants to show you what the average Philly geek looks like.

What do we have?

We have a thin white man and woman, each wearing skinny jeans and other fashion accessories that are currently tied to a Brooklyn hipster aesthetic: Etsy, plaid shirts on guys, bright colour-blocks for gals. Hair makes the presumption of normative straight white hair; “soft” bangs for the gal, “no style” mess for the guy. The various accessories are all high end, have particular cultural markers that indicate a specific class and association – the white iphone, the hip places to eat, the music.

As has been quickly pointed out on Twitter, this barely scratches the surface of the nerd/geek culture in Philadelphia, and while it does cross the line into defining what a “real X” is via physical description and assumption of interest (a la the fake geek girl meme), it is, most problematically, painfully and exclusionarily white.

I commented to Polianarchy that I was disappointed to see Technically Philly join in on the defining what a geek/nerd girl looks like and does, even in jest, because there has simply been so much of it lately. One of the co-founders of Technically Philly, Christopher Wink replied: it’s really sexism to playfully share common set of identities? Community happens by shared experiences.

And right there, right there, is the problem. The graphics of the Philly geek dude and LadyNerd are attempting to “playfully share a common set of identities” and “shared experiences” to create community – and in doing that, set up a broad exclusionary criteria. Are you fat? Gutterpunk? A minority? Hate soy lattes? Can’t stand the music being stereotypically associated with nerd-types? Sorry, this community isn’t for you because you don’t share the experience.

Oh sure, people – and I suspect especially Technically Philly – are going to say that I’m overreacting, that the people on Twitter who looked at these graphics and said “uh no, I’m a Philly geek/nerd/techie and I don’t identify with that” are just being sensitive and should have some fun.

You know. The same thing geek girls are told when they object to the fake geek girl meme, or resent being told that they can’t really be a geek for X exclusionary criteria. As Dr. Andrea Letamendi notes, this can be categorized as microaggression.

The theory of microaggressions was developed back in the 70”²s to denote racial stereotyping, but was expanded by psychologist Derald Wing Sue, Ph.D. in 2007 to encompass a wide variety and classifications of these subtle and seemingly harmless expressions that communicate “hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults” toward people who aren’t members of the ingroup. These outgroup members might include women, racial/ethnic minorities, LBGT members, and others historically marginalized in our community.

Why are microaggressions harmful? They seem silly, right? But these comments actually communicate messages that exclude, negate, or nullify the psychological thoughts, feelings, or experiential reality of a person. Sure, these incidents typically appear minute, banal and trivial. Sometimes they produce a good laugh. But repeated experiences of receiving them can have a long-term psychological impact. For instance, here are the implied messages about women in the comics community:

  • “You do not belong.”
  • “You are abnormal.”
  • “You are intellectually inferior.”
  • “You cannot be trusted.”
  • “You are all the same.”

These messages can therefore be pervasive and potentially damaging to a large group of people. And the reason they are micro-aggressions, Dr. Sue explains, is that the person delivering them may be well-intentioned and non-threatening in nature, maybe not even aware of their own biases. They, too, are have their own experiences that have shaped their perspectives. In most cases, when confronted, the person will deny that they meant any harm, explain that they were joking, and tell the recipient that she is being too sensitive.

I was over the moon thrilled with how inclusive the Philadelphia Geek Awards were last year; race, gender, sexual identity—everyone seemed included, and it was really wonderful and something that I could be legitimately proud of being a part of.

Unfortunately, Technically Philly’s geek guy/LadyNerd stereotypes today are about the exact opposite of that. We need to do better, as a community, to make sure that the message we send out is one of inclusion. These posts, and the response, fail to be inclusive on multiple fronts, and that’s something we, as Philadelphia techies, geeks, and nerds, should be ashamed of and refuse to embrace.