Over at io9 (via Comics Alliance), Rachel Edidin has posted a rant drumming up a faux-crisis about the myth of the fake geek girl, and how guys are threatened by the presence of female geeks, so they assert that geek girls are not actually real. Or something. Frankly, I barely made it past the third paragraph, which stated the following:
“Geek” is a gendered noun. There’s a GeekGirlCon, but no GeekGuyCon: every con is GeekGuyCon, unless it specifies otherwise. You don’t say “geek guys” the way you say “geek girls”: once you’ve said “geek,” the “guy” is pretty much taken as read.
It may be the case that some people think of the word “geek” as being masculine, but it is not noted as such at Dictionary.com, nor do I recall it being described as such in any other dictionary I’ve ever consulted. In point of fact, most words in the English language are gender-neutral. While many of the languages from which English evolved do gender their nouns, this linguistic practice has fallen out of use over the last couple centuries in English itself. I think that Edidin mixed up denotation and connotation. Denotation is the literal meaning of a word; the textbook, dictionary definition of what it describes. Connotation is the meaning associated with the word; the ineffable impression left upon that word by its common usage.
In practice, yes, most people who are not geeks probably instinctively think of a “geek” as a male nerd who obsesses over trivial and/or highly technical arcana that are of little interest to most people or are beyond their comprehension. That’s the connotation of the word, not its denotation. There are probably many male geeks out there who either feel threatened by female geeks or who simply refuse to believe that there could be feminine counterparts to their particular brand of esotericism. On the flip side, I also know that there are plenty of female geeks out there. I married one. She’s awesome. I rarely feel threatened by her, and when I do, that’s only when I’ve done something thoughtless; her geekiness, in and of itself, poses no threat to me. In fact, I quite dig it.
Furthermore, most of the other self-identified male geeks I know are all familiar with female geeks. (If they don’t know any personally, they surely take note of them at conventions.) A few of them are even quite active in promoting feminist geekdom. In short, we all use “geek” as a gender-neutral or gender-inclusive term. I don’t know what sectors of the Internet Edidin has been patrolling, but in both my online and flesh-and-blood life, there is no such thing as a “fake” geek girl. Most of the male geeks who think geek girls are a myth are probably not real geeks.
None of this changes the fact that “geek” is not, by definition, a gendered noun. And since that is the cornerstone upon which Edidin builds her rant, it speaks to the vacuity of both her argument and the topic.
UPDATE 11/21/2012: Alyssa Rosenberg has weighed in on Edidin’s post, and you should definitely check out what she has to say. The biggest thing that gave me pause was the idea of geeks “consolidat[ing] our cultural power.” I know that Rosenberg isn’t exactly advocating hegemony or conformity, but those tend to be outgrowths of consolidation, not to mention the implication that, in order to consolidate, there must be some sort of widespread agreement on core values. If its (alleged) sheer diversity is one of the best things that geekdom has going for it, it feels like consolidation would be fatal to its (supposed) vibrancy and predilection for change. Who’s going to assign or decide those values or geekdom’s core mission? One of the advantages to geeks being a notoriously cantankerous and iconoclastic group (who nevertheless fall eagerly in line behind super-big brand names like Disney’s Avengers, and death to anyone who refuses to slobber all over it!) is that even their groupthink is fractious. They don’t like being told who or what they are or what they should be all about, even if they’re all about very mainstream stuff. I dunno. I guess the idea of prescribed geekery being a cure for what ails us just rankles me. I am, after all, notoriously cantankerous. ☕