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What is a She-Geek?

What is a she-geek? The simplest answer would be that a she-geek is a geek who happens to be female. The creator of this page has a very nice definition of the word "geek" on the main page of this web site, so there is no need to go into that. One might think that the female part of the word is also fairly obvious. In some ways, it is. But as with everything else, being female carries more distinctions with it than what part of the store you shop for clothes in. Some of the distinctions are fairly obvious, as when I'm the only person in the machine shop who has to make sure that my hair is pulled back so it won't get caught in something, and others are more subtle. It's the subtleties that get you every time. Note:The rest of the article is inside

I can never be completely sure that my classmates reactions to me aren't biased because I'm a woman. I don't think they do it deliberately. On the eve of the 21st century, any man who still thinks women should be "barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen", or even in more traditional female careers than engineering is usually blunt (read: rude) enough to say so. But I still can't help wondering if I am viewed as more of a threat, or less of one, than a man with the same behavior patterns would be. And at the same time, I can't just ask my male counterparts if my gender is skewing their perceptions. The polite and correct answer is that of course it isn't. A more accurate answer might be that he didn't even think about it. If he does decide that my gender affects his reaction, his safest course would probably be not to mention it anyway, lest it lead to a sexual harassment lawsuit. But men and women are different, and they do interact differently. There is nothing wrong with this; the problem comes in learning to accept this and work with it rather than against it.

I can't deny that I do tend to notice the genders of my classmates, particularly in the situation of a group project. It's not uncommon for me to be in a class of fifty students, only half a dozen of whom will be women. I've been in classes where I've been the only woman in the class, and in most group projects I am the only woman in my group. I admit, it does influence my perception of what goes on around me, particularly in my interactions with male classmates. I rarely think of another woman "Is she responding that way because I'm a woman?" At the same time, I have great difficulty working on all-female teams. I do respond to situations differently when I am with a group of women than I do when I'm with a group of men. I am not used to adjusting my behavior patterns in a group project situation to my reactions around other women. I am generally more comfortable working with a group of men than with a group of women, but I suspect that this is due at least in part to the fact that I so rarely am in a situation where there are enough women to form a complete project group.

Being in such a significant minority in my classes has done strange things to my perception of a proper gender balance. I am always in the minority in any engineering or computer science class I take, and unless I register for a course specifically intended for women in engineering, I will remain in that minority until I graduate, and likely afterwards in the workforce. I accept this as a fact of my life, and in fact have come to expect it as a typical situation. However, when I take a class in the humanities, the number of women in the class is usually at least equal to the number of men, if not greater. More than once, I have been in one of those classes and found myself wondering if I was in the right place, and what all these women were doing there, and where all the men were.

This skewed perspective of gender balance to some extent carries over into my personal life. Social skills were never one of my great strengths. After all, why settle for being fashionable when being witty attracts considerably more attention? Having lived for two years with female roommate who is decidedly not a geek has helped my social skills and fashion sense somewhat, although given the choice, I would still rather be witty than pretty. I am now more comfortable socializing with non-geeks than I used to be, particularly non-geek women. And I do well enough in mixed groups of geeks and non-geeks, and often act as a translator for the two groups. But I am still most comfortable socializing with other geeks. The gender balance may not be tipped as much as it is in some of my classes, but the skew is definitely still there. This is the world as I know it, and as I expect it to be.

So all you other she-geeks out there, stand up and make your voices heard as part of the geek community, not just on women's sites, but on sites for the average geek like this one. After all, most of us realize that none of us are average anyway, so how can there be an average geek? You young women and girls who are entering adolescence and feeling pressure to fit in, don't hide your geekdom, embrace it. Yes, this is a rough time in your life to be different, but it's also too short to waste pretending to be something you're not. And for all you male geeks who deal with she-geeks on a regular basis, try to avoid these two traps. Just because the you're dealing with a woman, it doesn't mean that she is any less intelligent, skilled, or talented than the man sitting next to her. And just because she is as intelligent, skilled, and talented doesn't make her a man with breast implants. Her reactions and perceptions will be different. Respect that, but never forget that she is a woman as well as a geek.

Comments

I found this article very fascinating. Being a woman geek myself I was interested in finding other female geeks to network with, to rant with about how some men think I'm stupid because I have tits, or for that matter can't stop staring at my tits, etc. While equality is the way these days IT is still a highly male-dominated industry and it is important for women to support eachother in breaking into it. I face the same thing in classes as you - with approximately 60 people and maybe 10 in it women - not to mention several of the women are just barely making it through as is. I like to chat with my fellow programmers of the male persuasion and find them surprised to see I actually know what I'm talking about, and can sometimes teach them a thing or two. I'm not sure it is important to specify the gender of a geek but I have noticed a difference.