I’ve always been a geek. I’ve always been a girl. Neither of those two things will ever change.

I’m not really sure why, but I’ve stayed away from blogging about being a girl in the tech/game-blogging/movie-blogging industry, leaving it to those that can write more eloquently than me. But I shouldn’t. I still experience weird situations that leave me puzzled as to why they happen, and I should be blogging about those.

Throughout my entire life I’ve had to prove that I am a geek, encountering men and boys that didn’t believe a woman could know about or would be interested in geeky stuff.

I remember being seven years old, having just discovered a new TV show: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. At school, I overheard a couple of boys discussing the theme song. They couldn’t remember the lines, though, so I jumped in and sang the entire song for them. They were so baffled that a girl would watch that show that they didn’t believe those were the real lyrics.

I remember in high school being told that math and physics were too difficult for girls. That I should choose something more appropriate like biology or history.

I remember being at university, studying Computer Science and finishing a tricky assignment which the student assistant had just approved. I was quite proud of myself until I overheard that same student assistant say to another student “If SHE can do it, you definitely can.”

I hate that those things happened. I regret that I didn’t have more guts at the time to turn around and say “You. Are. Wrong.” But those experiences made me who I am today. My response to all those things was to be the best I could be — and to prove to everyone that I was smart enough to do anything a guy could do.

All of the above events happened more than ten years ago, so I can forgive most of those remarks and hope those people know better now. But these type of things STILL happen. I still experience prejudice just because I’m a woman.

A couple of times now at Forbidden Planet, a massive comic and sci/fantasy book store in London, I’ll be browsing and guys will approach and hit on me. The hitting on random girls at bookstores is a separate issue, but why do almost all of them start with “Are you buying a present for someone?” Seriously. You don’t think that just maybe I’m there because I’m interested in it myself?

At tech events, I’ve noticed that what I wear really makes a difference. If I’m wearing a geeky T-shirt and jeans/shorts, everything will be fine. When I’m wearing a pretty dress and nice makeup though, then the comments start. I’ll be at a hackday and someone will ask “Are you doing the marketing for this team?”. Or I’ll be at an event for bloggers and someone will assume I’m one of “the PR girls”.

A few months ago I was at a PR party and I met a girl who was wearing the standard geek uniform of jeans and a t-shirt. She remarked to me that she wished she had put on a dress — but she had to go to a Facebook developer event earlier that evening, so needed to wear jeans and t-shirt or else not be taken seriously. Do we truly still work in an industry where it matters what we wear? Are jeans and T-shirt our industry’s suit and tie, and are we really ignoring those that don’t conform to the industry’s uniform? Whatever happened to geeks allowing you to be whoever you wanted to be?

From what I’ve experienced so far, the games industry is a whole lot worse. No, let me get that right: the game blogging industry. At almost every game blogging/press event I’ve gone to, I’ve had male attendees (bloggers/PRs/game developers) stare wide-eyed at me and exclaim: “OMG. You’re a girl. Girls don’t like games.” They’ll either try to dissect how this strange creature got into gaming or disregard everything I’m saying. I can’t get over the fact that some people still don’t realize that, yes, girls play games too. And, yes, we like the same games guys like too. Girls are part of your readership/consumer base/target audience. Don’t ignore them.

All these incidents happend to me within the past year. I tend not to react, to “ignore” them, but actually? They annoy the hell out of me. And I’m not the only one that they happen to.

So I’m going to write about them more. And I want to hear from you all what you’ve been through.

I am “Miss Geeky”. I am a geek. And I am a girl. I’ll have moments of extreme geekiness, but I’ll also have moments of extreme girliness. I like makeup and pretty dresses and jewellery, and me liking those does not make me any less of a geek. I will not change what I like or what I wear purely to fit in and conform to people’s idea of the “geeky girl”. I will write more about this stuff, because everything I’ve talked about here shouldn’t be happening. Geeky girls have always been around. Just because you didn’t notice us doesn’t mean we weren’t there.

And it doesn’t mean you can ignore us now.

18 Comments

David E says:

I do have about half a second of confusion with a dressed up girl geek, or a guy in a suit claiming geekhood. I’m sure people still have momentary problems with non-white geeks (still less of us than girls). Only if it lasts more than a moment that is something to talk about.

If guys have a problem with girl geeks, then the only acceptable thing for them to do is to organise ruby conferences.

thank you for existing! I know how it feels being geeky and being a girl. I’m from Puerto Rico and a lot of guys have named me “the myth”. not only that, many girls have come to terms that they can’t stand me and have accused me of studying the guy world so i can take away their guys, many don’t simply comprehend I am a gamer. excluding the accepting guys, others guys are like getting game facts wrong when i correct them they shun me for being “wrong” because I am a girl. im not a gamer simply because i play call of duty and thats it. Im not that into fps and people die when i confess it and they dont believe when i say i love adventure, puzzle, action, rpg and such more. but i am so happy a girl like you exist to fight that games, movies, and comics are not only guy based. and again thank you for existing!

Sci-Fi Gene says:

As a male reader it’s depressing but I know very well this stuff still happens. On a separate note – isn’t it even more weird that people (geeks or otherwise) now feel they have to “conform” to the geek image?

Anonymous says:

It’s such a shame that this post is no different than what I would have written 30 years ago. The saddest part to me was this: “My response to all those things was to be the best I could be — and to prove to everyone that I was smart enough to do anything a guy could do.” I did the same, thinking we could win the war one person at a time. But all these years later, nothing has changed.

vickytnz says:

Tara Hunt has written about this:
http://tarahunt.com/2012/08/20/the-fashionanti-fashion-duality/
http://tarahunt.com/2011/09/14/a-pink-collar-tech-ghetto/
“When I moved to San Francisco in 2005, it took me about 6 months to deny myself my femininity. It wasn’t fashionable to be fashionable. I moved to SF with a closet full of designer dresses, suits and shoes and within 6 months all I was wearing were jeans and t-shirts. I am ecstatic to see photos of events filled with women in dress clothes and high heels. My only embarrassment lies in that I didn’t have the *erm* balls to be the woman I am back then.”

I often feel guilty as a ‘stereotypical’ geek girl who doesn’t really do makeup (my excuse is I went to a girls’ school, then did industrial design where I got covered in sawdust one too many times!) or heels (I’m reasonably tall), as if I’m not encouraging other girls by been a bit slack in terms of appearance! I do love a nice dress though….

Lineke says:

Great article, thanks for sharing!

Anna Filina says:

I agree about the whole geek “uniform”. Whenever I wear a pretty dress, people ask me whether I’m a PR. It used to annoy me, but now I’m actually enjoying seeing their faces when they discover that I’m a developer, that I like sci-fi, action movies and video games. I impress people with my awesome big photo lens when I bring it along. But then they sometimes mistake me for a photographer. There’s no escaping the prejudice :)

However, the dress code also goes for men. Most geeks wear dull black or grey t-shirt with some sort of clever geeky reference. They’re cool, but nobody seems to wear any normal clothes. It’s like a competition of geekness. Whenever a man wears a shirt, geeks assume he’s a sponsor or a manager. My associate gets that all the time. But that’s what we are: unconventional. It doesn’t make him upset either. I like to view it as playing a game on a higher difficulty level: you increase monster power on purpose to make it more fun.

[...] yesterday’s serious post about being a geeky girl (read it here) with the promise to write about that type of stuff more, I wasn’t quite sure what post would [...]

[...] read an interesting point of view from Melinda Seckington. One thing that caught my eye was her mention of how she can spare herself [...]

I think it’s only been in the last few years when I’ve realised there are geeky girls out there like you that make it cool to be a geeky girl.

When me and my brother were younger he’d get Christmas presents like K’Nex and Meccano – and to me those were sometimes more interesting then my own presents (I was still grateful for what I received, don’t get me wrong but there was something about the construction presents that my brother received). I watched TMNT with my brother, we’d also watch X-Men on a Saturday morning while eating our cereal, we’d also watch Power Rangers and things like that.

I was the kid who did 4 sides of A4 for an assignment instead of 2 because I got so into the project or I’d get told to put away my reading book to pay attention to the lesson.

At Upper School, I’d do my IT work in the first 10-15 minutes after it was set and then spend the rest of the lesson helping other people.

I went to my teachers when I was choosing my A Levels and asked what I’d be good at, unfortunately they weren’t all that helpful and the response I got was pretty much “take your pick”. With hindsight I wish I’d taken useful subjects. I had Cs in Maths, English and Science but might have been able to step it up to an AS Level. Instead I ended up shutting myself in a box by taking all performing arts subjects. I keep wanting to re-study stuff or teach myself things but even then without a certificate that learning is useless.

When I graduated university I was unemployed for about 6 months, I went to the local college and signed up for a ECDL course to earn a qualification of sorts to show that I could use my IT skills that I’d gained over the years between my Dad teaching me Excel, Powerpoint and (a bit of) Access and Chris (my husband) teaching me basic HTML over a couple of afternoons. I went to do the course and you start with an assessment of sorts to check what your skills are – I broke the test as I could do everything I was asked. I was told I had to start at Level 1 because their system didn’t allow you to jump in at Level 3 or the one relevant to your skills – thankfully I got a job – the first one didn’t work out by my Manager at my second job (where i am now!) loves my IT skills whether I have a piece of paper to prove the point or not. But it does mean that if I wanted to leave I wouldn’t be able to prove my IT skills really.

I stood in a store in London a few weekends ago and felt like the odd one in the room, upstairs there were other graphic novels but downstairs were all the DC Comics etc. Upstairs I felt like I was just in a normal bookstore but I went downstairs and felt like the odd one out. Penny in TBBT makes a comment about going into the Comic Book Store and one of the guys breaking down in an asthma attack just because she walked through the door. If it wasn’t for the girl behind the till in Close Encounters (Bedford’s Comic Book Store) I’d feel like that in there too!

I know when I talk games even with my brother I think he thinks I must have knocked my head or something but at least by reading Games of Thrones and Assassin’s Creed I seem to be claiming some cred back from him lol.

I agree that girl and geek don’t always mix and I’m fed up of being treated a certain way for being a girl and geek too. I guess not going to so many events in London doesn’t give me the same experiences as you but hopefully I make some sense!

Hum, I’m surprised you’ve encountered so many situations like these.

Well, actually, for the coding/tech/professional side of things, I’m not that surprised. Because this is an area where there is an element of proficiency (how good you are at what you do), there might be more chauvinism or naive prejudice against women by part of some unenlightened people who unfortunately would seem to think (or even worse, *wish*) that women would not be as capable as men in the tech/IT field.

But for geeky side of things, in leisure, (games/comics/sci-fi/fantasy etc) it strikes me as quite surprising still that such occurrences of “prejudice” are not very rare. I’m not often in comic book stores like Forbidden Planet, but if you go to convention events here in London, like say the MCM Expo (aka London ComicCon), you’ll find a lot of women who are into games and comics. Just looking at the cosplayers you will see quite a lot of them (even if looking at just games/comics cosplayers). Admitedly cosplayers are not necessarily a representative sample of the general geek population, but it should be enough to show everyone around that quite a few women are into these geek interests as well. And are *really* into it, it’s not just a passing or superficial interests for them.

I was in Eurogamer last year as well. Here you could clearly see that the female/male ratio was much lower than say the MCM Expo or London Film And Comic Con. Maybe around 1 in 20, rough estimation. That’s quite low (unfortunately), but although it makes female gamer geeks a minority, it not’s low enough to make them a “rarity”. It’s not low enough to say something like “OMG. You’re a girl. Girls don’t like games.” like someone had just found an albino person or something…

The geeky girls need to band together and support each other. I think that’s part of the problem. It’s easy to ignore or write off a “feminine geek” when she seems like a single anomaly, but harder when we start to take over their theaters, shops and CONS. Glad I found you!

Pragati says:

I completely agree with Melinda and Anna. Being geek doesn’t have to be associated with dressing in a geek uniform. I love colors and I love to dress up (well, I’m a girl, so it shouldn’t be a surprise!). I have been asked if I am HR, PR, recruiter, sales, just filling in the booth duty. I have tried dressing up geeky but then it’s just not me. So here’s what I do – I dress pretty, I tell them I am a developer, and enjoy the look on their face!

[...] via Preconceptions and Prejudice: Being A Geeky Girl. [...]

Allison Wilhelm says:

I feel ya! There’s this stupid notion that being a geek and being feminine are mutually exclusive. Like, you can either like Doctor Who OR Say Yes to the Dress, or you can only spend money on comics OR makeup. And there’s a ton of internalized misogyny, with some geek girls scoffing at the ones who express any interest in anything girly. Worried about your weight or appearance? “ugh, what a bimbo!” It doesn’t help that shows like The Big Bang theory enforce this dichotomy.

Super_Pickle says:

In all honesty, if a male went to a developer meetup in a suit, it would be distracting for a good chunk of the developers. I can say as a male, that it’s pretty distracting to talk to another guy in a suit/tux when I’m in jeans. It feels like I’m doing something wrong when someone else is dressed formally and I’m not. The truth is, the software/gaming industries are much less formal than other industries, and dressing up isn’t normal for meetings/events. Prestigious award events like the game developers choice awards aren’t black tie events, even if it should be. Half the winners just had some khaki/dark pants and an untucked collared shirt. Compare that to the Oscars, and you’ll see a big difference. Sadly, the dress for gaming and software industries is just casual. You’d probably get around the same number of strange looks walking around in a suit/dress at a software/gaming conference than if you accepted an Oscar award in street clothes.

That doesn’t excuse any of the other horrifying situations you’ve been in and responses you’ve gotten, but I thought it was an interesting perspective. I would like to think that the formal/casual attire is a little bit less gender charged, but I’m probably fooling myself.

As for the computer science assignment, the other student probably wasn’t smart enough to finish it if my class experiences are anything to go by.

[…] Melinda of Miss Geeky wrote about the preconceptions and the prejudice that surrounds being a girl geek. I wrote an epic comment on her post and it was almost a blog post on its own! You can read it here. […]

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