Time Heals All Wounds, And Then Kills the Patient
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Sat Sep 1 20:00:22 2012
Fake Geek Girls and Unbalanced Communities

Some months ago there was some community grumbling over a trend of some male geeks to label some women as "fake geek girls", the idea being that they're not actually geeky but are pretending to be so in order to get community status/access to geek males/whatever.

The pushback, particularly from certain parts of the feminist community, was that use of this label must stop, it being an example of misogyny.

I think it's a bit more complicated than that.

In my view, the term is valid but probably applies only rarely. People sometimes pose in order to gain social standing of various kinds. Males and females both do this, for many more categories than geekdom. Being able to recognise that that happens and that it's part of human nature seems simply sensible to me.

The term could easily be misused, either by males who want geek culture to be primarily defined and populated by males, or to discredit the intellectual abilities of women in general.

What do we do with terms that could be useful but can also be easily abused? Some would have us bar them (the whole "race is a social construction" crowd do that, yet generally still retain the ability to tell a swede from a taiwanese; they're arguing to vacate the term while working with a strawman or at least antiquated notion of race). Some pay them no mind. And some just listen a bit more carefully to make sure they're being used responsibly.

I favour the latter. To me, destroying a concept or its terms is a big deal, and should not be done lightly. There are some terms I do suggest we destroy, but my suggestions there are generally rooted in a broad theory that suggest a different-from-mainstream way of looking at a topic (e.g. sex/gender versus gender-roles). I would not suggest we destroy the concept of race any more than I would the idea of posers; both are reasonably useful concepts, and if others misuse them, we can criticise that misuse.

I recognise this attitude towards language requires a certain amount of discipline and care that radicals might not happily sign onto. I tested this using my normal go-to for the liberal form of idiocy; the "cslounge" chatroom on IRC, where one of the people who's a reliable source of unintelligent/radical analysis accused it of being a showy attempt at being fair. As expected. This is of course not only a liberal fault; conservatives occasionally do the same thing. The urge to destroy potentially misusable terms is embarassing though, in the same way that the third-wave gender-theory language, the criticism of cultural appropriation, or the game of finding things mainstream people say and figuring out ways to "feel marginalised" by them, or several other bad ideas are.

Hopefully we can move past all that someday and have a mature, decent liberalism/feminism/activism that has vision, accepts nuance, and is wary of radicalism.

And of course, for those of you who are skimming, I don't mean to impugn any female geeks who might be reading this; I have known plenty of female geeks over my life, from people much older than me to the pretty young, and very few posers. Some of these were CS professors and network techs, others fellow students. I believe women are roughly (and more-than-likely almost identically) as capable as men in geeky pursuits.