Lately, I've become aware of sexism and misogyny in the most unexpected of place - geek fandom culture.
I was a comic book nerd when I was a kid, but haven't touched a super hero comic in decades, so I was unaware of the dramatic ways things had changed in fandom over those years.
So you'll have to excuse me for thinking that fandom stuff was still primarily the territory of awkward, but mostly benevolent, too-fat or too-skinny male outcasts who are persecuted for their interests. See, that's the thing. I grew up as one of those people, and most of my friends were into the same role playing games, comic books, and horror movies that I was. Some of them were also early computer nerds, so fascinated by the possibilities of the extremely primitive home computers they had at the time that they were willing to spend their time practicing old-fashioned programming languages instead of hanging out with the cool kids at school.
Let's be honest, that wasn't going to be happening in most cases, even if they'd wanted it to. The cool kids weren't exactly embracing many of the terminally nerdy back then. People like that were generally pariahs among the majority of their peers, and in the days before the Internet, being a nerd was often a lonely existence.
Finding friends who would accept that you were into entertainment and activities that marked you as a weirdo to everyone else felt special way back when I was a youngster. That's why I find it troubling that misogyny and sexism seems to have exploded along with the mainstreaming of fandom.
I know I'm late to this party. This phenomenon has been getting a lot of press for awhile, with women being hassled for being fake geeks and treated poorly if they are brave enough to stumble into the still mostly male-dominated world of online video game play.
It makes me sad that many guys who probably would've been bullied for their interests a few years ago will treat women poorly within their fandoms. How did that happen?
Maybe part of the answer to that is the fact that geek culture has become a lot more "acceptable." This mainstreaming of traditionally outsider activities has made those activities open to the types of males that might not have once been attracted to them. Being a computer nerd these days is seen as cool, it's not the life sentence to "Never Gets Laid Island" that it might have seemed to be in the early '80s. Playing video games seems almost universally popular now, and I see asshole "bros" talking about their passion for games as often as classic game nerds these days.
A lot of those guys probably think taking a woman to the movies means they're entitled to sex at the end of the night, so it's not surprising that online game play with creeps like that can get quickly nasty. And since adolescent boys tend to really like video games, it's not surprising that an age group not known for its sensitivity might make online play an abusive landscape for women to venture into.
I recently encountered a cretin who was an avid online gamer, and who admitted to making "rape jokes" all the time while playing. His defense was that there is no longer a line of any kind as far as humor goes, and that his online persona did not reflect who he was in "real life."
In the end, I was left with the disquieting feeling that maybe the Internet has really poisoned the culture of various fandoms. Was that possible?
It's hard to say. Even 20 years ago, when I helped run a comic book store, I noticed a lot of misogyny. There were guys who ate up the hyper sexual depictions of females in comics and other fantasy media, but who seemed distrustful or hateful towards real women. One regular customer of ours even suggested that the comic shop should only allow men to shop there - sort of a Taliban outpost of dudes that probably masturbated to She Hulk comics. He was sadly not alone in that sort of opinion.
I personally feel that many of the classic comic mythologies are at least partially to blame. Most of the Silver Age comics that still seem to steer comic fandom's boat started out as wish fulfillment fantasies for powerless teenaged boys. There's a deeply rooted idea that a formerly weak and ostracized protagonist can earn the romantic attention of the girl he wants if he just is heroic enough, in essence "earning" her affection.
The problem is, real women and real romance don't work like that. It's why being a woman's close friend doesn't ensure that the friendship will ever blossom into romance. I think a lot of men have a serious problem understanding that, and accepting that scenario when they encounter it.
Instead, they complain about being permanently "friend zoned," and I think that the comic book myth of somehow "earning" a woman as a romantic partner is at least partially to blame.
Also, a lot of male nerds were promised that the the bullying they were enduring as kids would eventually be worth it. Their tormentors would be reduced to horrible menial jobs while they would be rewarded great gigs as computer programmers, and the attractive females that weren't interested in them in high school would be lining up for their favors later in life.
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I suppose that for some of them, that scenario DID come to pass, but to expect some sort of karmic force to punish one's enemies and to reward a nerd with a hot romantic/sexual partner seems screwed up to me. It fosters certain expectations with those guys, and a woman that doesn't play into those expectations is likely to be treated like she's a bitch.
The idea that a guy can earn a woman's affection in some predictable fashion is ridiculous. Women are individuals, and it's insulting to assume they'll all like the same thing or respond to a male's actions in the same way. Spider-Man be damned, maybe it works occasionally, but a guy can't count on winning a woman over by pretending to be her best friend or being there whenever she needs something.
So misogynistic male geeks, shape up. More people are onto you and your game. That stuff isn't going to be tolerated indefinitely. More and more females are getting into reading comics and playing games. The days of fandoms being dominated entirely by males are swiftly coming to an end.
If you want a compliant female that will fawn over you and submit to your sexual desires without question, build yourself that long promised "girl robot." Make her look like She Hulk if you want. Whatever. Just quit treating the real women out there like they don't belong in fandom if they don't play into your fantasies and expect to be taken as equals.