I’m a geek. So is my husband. He gets to wear the supergeek badge because he’s a programmer. I’m just a garden variety geek who’s into science. Meteorology, microbiology, and geology are my pet subjects. We both love a good map: we once spent $75 on a world atlas, and we’re often not sure what’s more fun, going on a trip or plotting it out. We’re staunch supporters of critical thinking skills, and encourage our daughter to question everything.
We also like more entertaining geek things, like the holy trinity of Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who. We like cheesy sci-fi disaster movies, even if they’re completely ludicrous, like The Day After Tomorrow or The Core. So it was with great pleasure that we gradually introduced these things to our daughter. She cut her geeky teeth on Star Wars at first, then we moved her on to Star Trek when we thought she could keep up with it. Gradually she discovered her own geeky things, Minecraft in particular. She is an absolute master at that game.
One day I stumbled across a Doctor Who episode (“42”) on PBS, and was hooked like a migrating salmon. We all fell in love with The Doctor instantly and began fantasizing about the TARDIS dropping out of the sky onto our lawn (you bet your sweet ass I’d go with him!). I got a sonic screwdriver for my 40th birthday, and we began collecting other bits of Doctor Who merchandise. Our daughter demanded to dress like the 11th Doctor for Halloween, and later Comic Con.
Her passions didn’t come without a price, though. See, it’s not much hipper to be a geek or a nerd today than it was when we were growing up, despite what popular media wants you to believe (just loving something a lot doesn’t make you a geek or a nerd). And if you’re a girl geek, then Heaven help you. Geekdom is a land still mostly inhabited by males, who staunchly believe that girls are too stupid or weak or whatever to be true geeks. She’s not only excluded by greater society because she’s a geek, but also from within geek society, because she’s a girl. She has a hard time making good friends with classmates because she’s interested in things that they are not, and vice versa. She’s 11 now, and could give a furry crack of a rat’s ass about any of the things other girls her age are interested in, mostly clothes and makeup. She sees a girl fretting about her appearance and thinks, “What’s wrong with you? You look just fine.” I’m probably responsible for this attitude, as a woman who shuns makeup and typically wears shorts and a fandom t-shirt of some variety on a daily basis.
She has found some acceptance on the internet, but other times she’s bullied on the Minecraft servers because she’s a girl. She’s refused to give in to the pressure as other girls have done, and keeps a username and a skin on her character that clearly identify her as a girl, or perhaps as gay (I’ve seen it, it’s very rainbow-y, as she also likes My Little Pony). This gets her no end of shit on some of the servers, where she will often be called out on her appearance straightaway. Other characters go out of their way to attack hers in order to get what she’s carrying, since everything you own drops to the ground when you die. She gets jabs of, “You can’t play here, you’re a girl! Only “real gamers” can play here!” I’ve seen her in tears more than once because she’s been bullied on a particularly mean server and had her character killed repeatedly. When she complains to the sysop about unfair treatment, she gets excuses that are creepily reminiscent of the kind of victim-blaming women get when they’re raped, basically “you were asking for it”. These things are run by people, and reflect the attitudes of their sysops. Maybe that’s just how everyone gets treated on some of these servers, but she seems to get an awful lot of flak because of her sex.
All I can do when these things happen is to remind her of how awesome she is, to tell her to just avoid places where she knows she’ll get bullied (which makes her sad: some of these servers are very interesting places to play), explain why jerks are jerks (typically boiling down to the need to put others down to make themselves feel better because their own lives suck, and as such it’s sometimes best to pity people like that from afar), and do something else fun with her (like watch Doctor Who). I encourage her to keep loving the things that make her happy, and show her things like this video:
and this one:
I feel bad about encouraging her to avoid places she likes in order to avoid being bullied, but when someone’s engaging in cyber-murder to keep you from playing, and there’s really nothing that can be done about it (no parents or school officials to go to), it seems fruitless to keep going there. I’ve told her to stand her ground but to pick her battles, though not in those words. She doesn’t really need to be told that, though: she does it naturally. Thanks to Daddy, she now has her own Minecraft server, where she can make the rules. We’ve given her the “with great power comes great responsibility” speech (Spiderman) in the wake of a cyber-squabble on the server that ended a friendship because she had to ban a couple of people (the culprit: a bullying boy). I’m going to encourage her to promote her server where she can as a safe place for other girl Minecraft players can come to play without fear of being bullied. I’ve been really proud of her unwillingness to cave to humiliation and prejudice unless it gets so bad that she just can’t play.
We’re going to keep introducing her to geeky things. She loves robots, even once keeping a blog about the life of a robot. I look forward to when she’s older and I can introduce her to more adult geeky things, like Ghost in the Shell and other anime, movies, and games. And I’ll keep telling her to explore new people, places, and things, even though she might get picked on, because sometimes she won’t be, and those will be the strong connections that will carry her through life. In the meantime, we’ll keep on playing the games we love (Skyrim, Minecraft, D&D), watching the movies we love (The Matrix, X-Men, Lord of the Rings), and cultivating friendships with like-minded people. Just because she’s in the minority doesn’t mean she has to be lonely. She and the other girl geeks of the world will prevail, and we will all be better off from it.